GENEVA - A senior U.N. official reports a U.N. assessment mission to Raqqa in northern Syria has found a devastated city, littered with unexploded weapons and largely uninhabitable.
The mission, in which 25 experts from key U.N. agencies participated this week, was the first such trip to Raqqa since the four-month battle to retake the Syrian city from Islamic State militants ended in mid-October.
The special adviser to the U.N. special envoy for Syria, Jan Egeland, said the experts witnessed utter devastation, far worse than they had seen after the brutal battles at Aleppo and Homs.
"A particular area of concern is the unexploded bombs, grenades and explosive traps — the latter left behind by the Islamic State fighters and the former by this enormous military campaign to take or liberate Raqqa," Egeland said.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab forces backed by the United States, launched its campaign to drive IS militants out of Raqqa on June 6.
Egeland said U.N. experts found that nearly 70 percent of the buildings were destroyed or damaged, and that water, electricity and health care were severely limited. He said one private hospital was functioning and some schools had resumed but lacked school materials.
He said some of the roads and streets had been cleared of unexploded ordnance, but nothing has been done to remove these dangerous arms from homes or backyards.
"So, people returning are taking a too large a risk still," Egeland said. "And it just shows the fierceness of this battle, and again the question was: Was it necessary to totally destroy a city to liberate it?"
Egeland said about 100,000 people already have returned to Raqqa and more than 100,000 others reportedly want to go back. He said it is incredible to think of so many people living in a city with no available public services.