Up to 50,000 civilians trapped in Raqqa: UN

Displaced Syrians who fled Daesh-controlled areas in Raqqa, Deir Ezzor and Mayadeen gather at Aleppo’s bus station of Ramussa recently. (AFP)
Updated 11 July 2017
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Up to 50,000 civilians trapped in Raqqa: UN

GENEVA: Up to 50,000 civilians remain trapped in the Syrian rebel stronghold of Raqqa, the UN said Tuesday, warning that supplies of water and other essentials were fast running out.
US-backed forces have been closing in on the last redoubt in Syria of Daesh after penetrating its Old City last week, but an estimated 2,500 militants are still defending the center.
“The UN estimates that between 30,000 and 50,000 people remain trapped in Raqqa city,” UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) spokesman Andrej Mahecic said in Geneva, down from some 100,000 people at the end of June.
Mahecic stressed it was hard to be sure about the numbers given the lack of access to Raqqa for UN agencies.
But he said: “Availability of food, water, medicine, electricity and other essentials has been dwindling, with the situation rapidly deteriorating.
“It is imperative that trapped civilians are able to secure safe passage out — to reach safety, shelter and protection.”
Daesh overran Raqqa in early 2014, turning the northern city into the de facto Syrian capital of their so-called “caliphate.”
With help from a US-led coalition, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters called the Syrian Democratic Forces is waging a fierce assault to oust Daesh from the city.
Raqqa has been without steady running water for several weeks after damage to pipelines by heavy bombardment, including suspected strikes by the US-led coalition.
Civilians dehydrated by the blistering summer heat have been venturing out to the Euphrates River and makeshift wells around the city, risking their lives as the fighting intensifies.
Activists say they have documented symptoms of water-borne diseases among those who are drinking the river water, including fever and loss of consciousness that it is feared could indicate cholera.
The UNHCR spokesman said the agency had managed to complete a first series of humanitarian convoys by road from the province around Raqqa to Qamishli in Syria’s northeast.
The road had been shut by fighting for nearly two years, forcing UN agencies to use costly airlifts to reach some of the 430,000 people displaced by fighting around Raqqa.
Four convoys, totaling 22 trucks, have over the past fortnight transported tents, blankets, jerry cans and other essentials to refugees who have reached Qamishli from Raqqa, Mahecic said.


Erdogan’s ‘vile’ comments on Christchurch mosques shootings dismissed as not representative of Muslims

Updated 21 March 2019
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Erdogan’s ‘vile’ comments on Christchurch mosques shootings dismissed as not representative of Muslims

  • Turkish president has threatened to "send home in coffins" visitors from Australia, New Zealand
  • Aussie and NZ leaders want Turkey to explain the "vile" and "offensive" remarks

JEDDAH: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was condemned on Wednesday for “vile, offensive and reckless” comments after last week’s Christchurch mosque terrorist attacks.

Australia summoned the Turkish ambassador in Canberra to explain the remarks, and New Zealand dispatched its foreign minister to Ankara to “set the record straight, face to face.”

Brenton Tarrant, 28, an Australian white supremacist, was charged with murder on Saturday after he shot dead 50 people during Friday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Erdogan, in election campaign rallies for his AK Party, urged New Zealand to restore the death penalty and said Turkey would make the killer pay if New Zealand did not.

He said anti-Muslim Australians who came to Turkey would be “sent back in coffins, like their grandfathers at Gallipoli,” and he accused Australian and New Zealand forces of invading Turkey during the First World War “because it is Muslim land.”

But an international affairs scholar in Riyadh said Erdogan’s comments should not be taken as representative of Muslims. 

"He is a propagandist and an unpredictable politician,” Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri told Arab News. “He keeps saying these things and then he issues an apology. Right now, he is making these incendiary comments to win elections.”

It was inappropriate behavior for a head of state, Al-Shehri said. “Which president would use such language and issue these kind of comments?”

In his speech, Erdogan said that the Gallipoli peninsula campaign in 1915 was in fact an attempt by British colonial forces to relieve their Russian allies. The attack was a military disaster, and more than 11,000 Australian and New Zealand forces were killed. Thousands of people from both countries travel each year to Turkey for war memorial services, and the anniversary is marked on Anzac Day every April 25.

“Remarks have been made by the Turkish President Erdogan that I consider highly offensive to Australians and highly reckless in this very sensitive environment,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said after summoning the Turkish ambassador and dismissing the “excuses” offered.

“I am expecting, and I have asked, for these comments to be clarified, to be withdrawn.” Morrison described claims about Australia and New Zealand’s response to the white supremacist attack as “vile.” He accused Erdogan of betraying the promise of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to forge peace between the two countries.

A memorial at Gallipoli carries Ataturk’s words: “There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets ... after having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

“Ataturk sought to transform his country into a modern nation and an embracing nation, and I think these comments are at odds with that spirit,” Morrison said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her deputy, Foreign Minister Winston Peters, would travel to Turkey to seek clarification of Erdogan’s comments. “He is going there to set the record straight, face-to-face,” she said.