Civilians are bearing the brunt of the last stages of the fight to destroy Isis’s self-described “caliphate” across Syria and Iraq, with dozens of people killed in US-led coalition bombing and ground fighting, monitors have reported.
In the battle for the jihadists’ de facto capital of Raqqa at least 69 people have died in the past 48 hours thanks to air strikes, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said, including 19 children and 12 women.
Citizen-journalist group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently said 39 of the dead were from one small neighbourhood alone.
Raqqa has been ferociously bombed for the past three days, as the US-backed Arab-Kurdish alliance the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) regained more than half the city.
“The tolls are high because the air strikes are hitting neighbourhoods in the city centre that are densely packed with civilians,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
“There are buildings full of civilians that are trying to get away from the front lines… coalition air strikes are targeting any building where any kind of [Isis] movements are being detected.”
While the US-led coalition bombing Isis across both Syria and Iraq says it takes “all possible measures” to avoid unnecessary loss of civilian life, rights groups have repeatedly criticised the campaign for causing unnecessary loss of civilian life.
The official acknowledged death toll is 624 people since strikes began in 2014 but activists and rights groups claim thousands have died.
In the fight for the Isis-besieged town of Deir Ezzour in the western desert, a fierce three-fronted Syrian army offensive – backed by Russian air power – has killed around 200 militants in the last few days.
Earlier this month, Syrian government forces seized full control of the last major town near Deir Ezzour. Many displaced fighters are now making their last stand in Raqqa.
In Iraq, where Isis was pushed out of its Iraqi capital of Mosul in July after a gruelling nine-month-long battle, the fight for one of the militants’ last urban strongholds of Tal Afar is progressing quickly.
Lieutenant General Abdul-Amir Rasheed Yar Allah, who commands the operation, said on Wednesday that special forces have already dislodged Isis fighters from two separate neighbourhoods after the ground offensive began three days ago.