The U.N. refugee agency said Friday that it was alarmed by the dangers facing thousands of Syrian civilians trapped by intense fighting in the city of Raqqa and neighboring areas.
The battle for Raqqa is in its fifth month. The opposition Syrian Democratic Forces, backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes and ground forces, had hoped for a quick victory in ousting Islamic State militants from Raqqa, their de facto capital. But the fighting remains intense, and U.N. refugee spokesman Andrej Mahecic said there was great concern for the safety and well-being of an estimated 8,000 trapped people.
"Those who manage to escape speak of deteriorating conditions inside the city," Mahecic said. "Food, water, medicine and electricity are scarce. We reiterate our call that trapped civilians be allowed safe passage to reach safety, shelter and protection. These people face the bleak choice of staying in the city engulfed by conflict or fleeing through the fighting — with either, essentially, it is a choice risking death."
Nearly 270,000 people have fled Raqqa city since April. Most remain displaced within Raqqa governorate. Others have found shelter in nearby cities and towns.
One of them, Deir el-Zour, also is involved in a pitched battle as Syrian armed forces try to dislodge IS militants from their stranglehold over the governorate of the same name. The UNHCR said about 95,000 men, women and children fled their homes in the first week of this month. They have found refuge in dozens of locations within the governorate, as well as in nearby regions.