US-led strikes killed 84 civilians near Syria’s Raqqa: HRW

People inspecting damage from airstrikes and artillery shelling in the northern city of Raqqa, Syria in this undated frame grab from a video posted online by the Aamaq News Agency, a media arm of the Daesh group, on Monday, May 29, 2017. (File photo: Aamaq News Agency via AP)
Updated 25 September 2017
0

US-led strikes killed 84 civilians near Syria’s Raqqa: HRW

BEIRUT: US-led coalition strikes near the Daesh group’s Syrian stronghold Raqqa in March killed at least 84 civilians, including dozens of children, Human Rights Watch alleged Monday.
The group said the strikes hit two sites: a school housing displaced families in the town of Mansourah, and a market and bakery in the town of Tabqa.
It said witnesses acknowledged Daesh fighters had been present at both sites, but that large number of civilians were also there.
“These attacks killed dozens of civilians, including children, who had sought shelter in a school or were lining up to buy bread at a bakery,” HRW deputy emergencies director Ole Solvang said.
“If coalition forces did not know that there were civilians at these sites, they need to take a long, hard look at the intelligence they are using to verify its targets because it clearly was not good enough.”
HRW said the first of the two strikes was on March 20, and killed at least 40 people including 16 children at the Badia school in Mansourah. The second was on March 22 and killed at least 44 people including 14 children at the Tabqa market and bakery.
The US-led coalition has been carrying out air strikes in support of anti-Daesh operations in Syria since September 2014, after expanding its existing campaign in neighboring Iraq.
Since last November, it has been supporting the Kurdish-Arab alliance known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as it battles to capture Raqqa province, including its capital Raqqa city.
The SDF broke into Raqqa city in June and is on the verge of capturing the former jihadist bastion.
But activists have criticized what they say are disproportionately high civilian death tolls in the campaign.
The coalition says it take all possible precautions to avoid civilian casualties and investigates credible reports of civilian deaths in its strikes.
In August, it acknowledged the deaths of 624 civilians in its strikes in Syria and Iraq since 2014.
But rights groups say the real figure is much higher, and HRW criticized the coalition’s methodology for assessing civilian casualties.
It said the coalition reported having assessed the Mansourah and Tabqa strikes, but it appeared they carried out no site visits nor witness interviews even though both places have been under SDF control for weeks.
“If the coalition had visited the sites and talked to witnesses they would have found plenty of evidence that civilians were killed in these attacks,” Solvang said.
“The coalition should follow our lead, conduct full investigations, and find ways to make its civilian casualty assessments more accurate.”
More than 330,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began with anti-government protests in March 2011.


Turkey to lift state of emergency after two-year purge

Updated 58 min 34 sec ago
0

Turkey to lift state of emergency after two-year purge

  • The state of emergency, which normally lasts three months, was extended seven times
  • During last month’s presidential election campaign, which he won, Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged that the state of emergency would end

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s state of emergency which was imposed after the failed 2016 coup is to end Wednesday but the opposition fears it will be replaced by even more repressive legislative measures.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared the state of emergency on July 20, 2016, five days after warplanes bombed Ankara and bloody clashes broke out in Istanbul in a doomed putsch bid that claimed 249 lives.
The measure, which normally lasts three months but was extended seven times, has seen the detention of some 80,000 people and about double that number sacked from jobs in public institutions.
The biggest purge of Turkey’s modern history has targeted not just alleged supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the US-based preacher blamed for the coup, but also Kurdish activists and leftists.
The former leaders of the opposition pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) — Figen Yuksekdag and Selahattin Demirtas — are still languishing in jail following their arrest in November 2016 on charges of links to Kurdish militants.
During last month’s presidential election campaign, which he won, Erdogan pledged that the state of emergency would end.
And it will — at 1:00 am on Thursday (2200 GMT Wednesday), simply by virtue of the government not asking that it be extended.
But the opposition has been angered by the government’s submission of new legislation to parliament that apparently seeks to formalize some of the harshest aspects of the emergency.
The bill, dubbed “anti-terror” legislation by pro-government media, will be discussed at commission level on Thursday and then in plenary session on Monday.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) said the new measures would amount to a state of emergency on their own.
“With this bill, with the measures in this text, the state of emergency will not be extended for three months, but for three years,” said the head of the CHP’s parliamentary faction, Ozgur Ozel.
“They make it look like they are lifting the emergency but in fact they are continuing it,” he added.
Under the proposed legislation, the authorities will retain for three more years the power to sack civil servants deemed linked to “terror” groups, retaining a key power of the state of emergency.
Protests and gatherings will be banned in open public areas after sunset, although they can be authorized until midnight if they do not disturb the public order.
Local authorities will be able to prohibit individuals from entering or leaving a defined area for 15 days on security grounds.
And suspect can be held without charge for 48 hours or up to four days in the case of multiple offenses.
This period can be extended up to twice if there is difficulty in collecting evidence or if the case is deemed to be particularly voluminous.
The authorities have also shown no hesitation in using the special powers of the emergency — right up to its final days.
Following a decree issued on July 8, 18,632 people were sacked — 8,998 of them police officers — over suspected links to terror organizations and groups that “act against national security.”
The move came just two weeks after Erdogan was reelected under a new system that gives him greater powers than any Turkish leader since the aftermath of World War II.
The new executive presidency means government ministries and public institutions are now centralized under the direct control of the presidency.
Erdogan says it is necessary to have a more efficient government but the opposition claims it has placed Turkey squarely under one-man rule.
“The end of the state of emergency does not mean our fight against terror is going to come to an end,” said Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul.