Middle East Updates Articles and Videos 16th June 2017

Staggering Loss of Life: ‘Raqqa is not about protecting civilians’

UN war crimes investigators have slammed intensified US-led strikes on the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa in Syria. Journalist Vanessa Beeley says the Raqqa operation is not about protecting civilians, and that the US itself does not abide by the so-called ‘red lines’ it sets for countries it targets.

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The UN Just Accused The US Of Killing 300 Civilians Since Last Week In Raqqa

by Darius Shahtahmasebi via TheAntiMedia.org,

According to a U.N. Commission of Inquiry tasked with investigating violations of international war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria, the intensification of airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition has led to a “staggering loss of civilian life,” the Guardian reports.

The U.N. war crimes investigators found that since the acceleration of airstrikes in the Syrian city of Raqqa commenced last week, 300 civilians have already died. This statistic arguably makes Bashar al-Assad pale in comparison; Assad’s regime reportedly kills approximately 20-50 people in any given week.

“We note in particular that the intensification of air strikes, which have paved the ground for an SDF advance in Raqqa, has resulted not only in staggering loss of civilian life, but has also led to 160,000 civilians fleeing their homes and becoming internally displaced,” Paulo Pinheiro, the chairman of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry told the human rights council in Geneva.

According to Karen Abuzayd, an American commissioner on the independent panel, the figure of 300 is based only on deaths caused by airstrikes. Therefore, the figure of civilian deaths caused by troops on the ground may ultimately higher.

As the Guardian also notes, speculation that the coalition has been using white phosphorous has already drawn strong condemnation.

Not surprisingly, this operation was conducted with full knowledge that there would be mass suffering for the civilian population. At the end of May of this year, Secretary of Defense James “Mad Dog” Mattis announced that the U.S. would be switching to so-called “annihilation tactics” against ISIS, stating:

“Our intention is that the foreign fighters do not survive the fight to return home to North Africa, to Europe, to America, to Asia, to Africa, we are not going to allow them to do so…We are going to stop them there and take apart the caliphate.”

 

According to Mattis, civilian deaths “are a fact of life in this sort of situation.” However, Mattis did add that the U.S. military would “do everything humanly possible consistent with military necessity, taking many chances to avoid civilian casualties at all costs.”

Mattis’ announcement that the U.S. would annihilate ISIS (and massacre civilians by the hundreds) is still somewhat dubious, considering video footage appears to have emerged of ISIS fighters fleeing the conflict in Raqqa safely despite the hundreds of bombs and white phosphorous loaded munitions U.S.-backed forces have been dropping over the city. It has been speculated that in reality, these ISIS fighters are being granted safe passage to put added pressure on the Syrian government, a longtime adversary of the United States.

Further, using a dangerous element like white phosphorous and burying over 300 civilians after approximately a week of fighting seems, on the face of it, to be nothing short of a blatant war crime. The Commission of Inquiry and the mainstream media may not use the term “war crime” outright, but that is surely an inference one can draw from their calculations.

If anything, it would appear the U.S. is annihilating civilians — and not much else.

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UN calls for accountability for Raqqah violations

UN war crime investigators have raised alarm over the staggering loss of civilian lives in Syria’s Raqqah as US forces battle ISIL in the region.The Head of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria went on to say that the people of Raqqah have been subjected to crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. He says he and his colleagues have also recorded blatant violations of abuse and continuous, willful violations of international humanitarian law in Raqqah. Pinheiro says there must be a mindful accountability for the documented rights violations, adding that such lack of respect for international norms must be addressed.

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First Mosul then Raqqa. How Washington targets civilians

by Mehmet Ersoy, Inside Syria Media Centre:

Yesterday, a monitoring group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently published another footage of the aftermath of the U.S.-led coalition’s strikes on the city. Videos and photos show damaged buildings, bomb craters and fires.

In particular, shocking are the photos of children and adults injured because of the coalition: someone’s face is burnt, another man is bleeding while the other guy seems to be shocked and can’t move.

Meanwhile, conventional weapons don’t quite satisfy Washington. In the previous week, ISIS-linked channel Amaq published a video showing white phosphorus shells hitting Raqqa. Using these munitions in populated areas is prohibited by the international law.

White phosphorus causes terrifying effects: contacting a human skin, it burns it to the bone, and if a person inhales the gas released during the burning, he would start choking and literally burn from the inside. It also ignites high temperature fires that are difficult to extinguish.

Notably, in an article concerning the accusations of the U.S. illegal methods of war, the New York Times refers to an official who on the condition of anonymousness told the newspaper that the coalition indeed has access to white phosphorus munitions, which, however, are not used against personnel. But as we see, their role is to fight civilians.

Besides, the spokesman for the U.S.-led task force Col. Ryan Dillon commented on the situation. According to him, white phosphorus is used for “screening, obscuring and marking in a way that fully considers the possible incidental effects on civilians and civilian structures”.

Tens of thousands of residents who still stay in Raqqa don’t seem to be considered civilians by the Pentagon. According to Unicef, 40,000 children are still trapped in the city, and their lives are in constant danger because of the coalition’s bombings and shellings.

Moreover, in the same NYT article, the Syrian government is accused of using white phosphorus against the militants during the battle for Aleppo. Isn’t it an example of the western hypocrisy?

Obviously, this is just the beginning of Raqqa’s destruction. During the operation on pushing ISIS out of Mosul, almost one thousand civilians were killed. The West proved how indifferent Washington is to deaths among the civilian population. And HRW’s call to think first of Raqqa residents, who have been suffering from ISIS for 3 years, will remain unheard.

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US steps up military presence in Syria

The U-S military has stepped up its presence and firepower in the highly strategic deserts of southeastern Syria.
According to US-backed militants, American forces have set up a second base around 65 kilometers from AT-TANF in Homs province. Militants say more US troops and weapons are arriving at both bases. Special Forces are also patrolling distances up to 100 kilometers from AT-TANF. Meanwhile, the U-S has moved its long range artillery to the region. A senior U-S intelligence official describes the deployment as a significant boost as the artillery known as HIMARS has a range of 300 kilometers. Tensions have escalated recently near AT-TANF in Syria’s Badia deserts near the Iraqi border. U-S warplanes have twice bombed Syrian troops advancing on terrorists. American forces are deployed in Syria without the consent of the government in Damascus.

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U.S. Intends to Increase Control over Southern Syria

by Anna Jaunger, for the International Reporter

The U.S. continues to expand military presence in Syria. Nowadays, Washington is setting up a second base at Syria’s Al-Zakf to the northeast, Reuters reported. Abu al-Atheer, military spokesman for the U.S.-backed Maghawir al-Thawra opposition group, told Reuters U.S. forces had spread from their initial location in Al-Tanf to set up a second base an Al-Zakf, around 60-70 km (40-50 miles) to the northeast. Besides, al-Atheer stressed that the opposition units had already got the U.S.-made weapons. In addition, he said that the U.S. Special Forces frequently patrolled distances of up to 100 km from Al-Tanf.

Muzahem Saloum, a militant official close to Maghawir al-Thawra, also confirmed this. According to him, the second base was expected to be a “first line of defense” against any attack by Iranian-backed Syrian pro-government militias.

Despite of militants’ statements, the Coalition Command is still denying the fact of setting up the new base in Syria. Colonel Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the U.S.-led Coalition in Iraq and Syria, reported that the U.S. conducted patrolling outside the Al-Tanf base to increase the level of protection against sudden attacks.

Against the background of this, recent reports of the U.S. deliveries of High Mobility Artillery Rocket System – HIMARS to the Al-Tanf base are easy to explain. According to a journalist of National Interest, Amitai Etzioni, the U.S. current administration intends to use armed opposition militants to prevent the Syrian Army’s confident advance to the south of the country. That is why the positions of the Syrian Army turned into the targets of militants and the U.S.-led Coalition Air Force.

Taking into account all of the above, it becomes clear that creating the new military base, Washington intends to escalate and influence the situation in Syria. In addition, it will allow the United States to prevent the unification of Syrian government forces with the Iraqi Hashd al-Shaabi.

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SAA freed eastern countryside of Palmyra from ISIS forces

Syrian Arab Army took Syria’s Arak Triangle area near eastern Palmyra and now fire at IS positions in the Mustadirah Mountains.
SAA forces will push on toward the town of Sukhnah – the last major IS stronghold before the Deir Ezzor Governorate.

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Syrian War Report – June 15, 2017: Syrian Army Captures More Oil Fields In Raqqah Province

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France opens probe into company’s Daesh links

A French judge plans to launch in investigation into allegations that a French industrial company committed war crimes and financed terrorism in Syria. Lafarge construction group is accused of working with Daesh Takfiri terrorists for 5 years in order to maintain production at their new concrete plant near the Turkish border.

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The Debate – US Anti-Iran Policy

The Islamic Republic has always said it and now the US Secretary of State has admitted it: US policy towards Iran is one of regime change. The US justifies its stance by accusing Iran of being a destabilizing force in the Middle East, however; the reality, as pointed out by the Iranian Foreign Ministry, is that the US has been meddling in the country since the 1950s.

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