GENEVA - A senior United Nations official warns some 20,000 civilians held hostage by Islamic State in the Syrian city of Raqqa are in great danger and everything possible must be done to help them escape.
The special adviser to the U.N. special envoy for Syria, Jan Egeland, Thursday said the needs of thousands of civilians trapped in five Raqqa neighborhoods under Islamic State control are beyond belief.
Egeland voices concern about their lack of protection as the military offensive to retake this Syrian city from IS intensifies. He says civilians are suffering large casualties from heavy shelling by the Syria government and the constant air raids by the U.S.-backed coalition forces.
“There seems to be no real escape for these civilians… I cannot think of a worse place on Earth now than in these five neighborhoods for these 20,000 people,” he said.
Egeland says the U.N. is urging the humanitarian task force, including members of the coalition fighting to retake Raqqa, to do whatever is possible to help people escape the embattled city.
“People that come out cannot risk air raids when they come and where they come. Is this the time when you also announce a humanitarian pause, which we did for many other places, including in Aleppo and elsewhere,” he said.
Egeland acknowledges the difficulties of enacting a humanitarian pause in the fighting to allow the civilians to flee. He says that is mainly because the U.N. has no negotiating partner in Raqqa, IS's self-declared capital.
Unlike other areas, such as Aleppo, where it has been possible to achieve a pause, he says the U.N. has no contact with Islamic State fighters who are deliberately using the civilians as human shields. According to rights group Amnesty International, hundreds of people have been killed or injured since the offensive to retake Raqqa from Islamic State began in June.