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Rights group: 4,250 people still missing in Raqqa

Civilian, who fled Raqqa, arrive in Jarabulus, Syria on May 26, 2017. Civilians living around Raqqa flee to opposition controlled safe zones due to clashes between Daesh and PYD/ PKK terrorist organisations. [Hüseyin Nasır/Anadolu Agency]
Civilians who fled Raqqa, arrive in Jarabulus, Syria on May 26, 2017. Civilians living around Raqqa flee to opposition controlled safe zones due to clashes with Daesh and other terrorist organisations. [Hüseyin Nasır/Anadolu Agency, file photo]

The whereabouts of 4,247 residents of Raqqa is still unknown according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), who called on the international community to make discovering their fate a priority after the fall of Daesh.

During Daesh’s four-year rule, thousands of people were kidnapped or co-opted into working for the militants, disappeared from their families who were left with no knowledge of their location. The battle with the international coalition also resulted in many families being separated as they fled the violence, with children making up nearly 1,000 of the missing.

“The Central Tracing Agency, run by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), should begin to assist in the search for thousands of missing persons in Syria, try to identify their fate, and provide expertise and logistical support to the Syrian community and local organisations in this field, particularly in north-eastern Syria, after the defeat of ISIS,” Fadel Abdul Ghany, SNHR chairman, said of the report.

“It is possible that the contribution of international actors in this field can help Syrian society to determine the fate of tens of thousands of disappeared people.”

The report comes amid the discovery or numerous mass graves in the former Daesh stronghold, with thousands of unidentified bodies posing a massive challenge for Kurdish authorities administering the city. Some 793 bodies have been exhumed at Al-Panorama Park, including dozens of women and children; some could be victims of Daesh or those who were killed by US-led bombing.

The report called on the international coalition forces to provide more logistical and material support for those involved in the exhumation process and to put pressure on the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to prioritise their identification and preservation of evidence.

READ: US envoy says fight against Daesh militants will go on

In October, 2,500 bodies were discovered under the rubble of destroyed buildings in Raqqa, with Amnesty International pointing to the international coalition as responsible.

The international NGO’s Secretary-General, Kumi Naidoo, described the “horrific destruction and utter human devastation” he witnessed when he visited Al-Raqqa one year after the end of the US-led battle, saying: “What I saw in Raqqa shocked me to my core.”

Kurdish authorities have also uncovered 96 bodies from the courtyard of the old Al-Raqqa Mosque, after civilians turned it into a temporary cemetery due to the intensity of the US-led bombing on the city. Bodies have also been found at Al-Rashid football stadium, the city zoo, the Al-Qadim mosque and the Al-Badou residential district.

Of the thousands of corpses uncovered last year, only 75 were able to be returned to their families prior to a proper burial, with hundreds remaining unidentified at various stages of decomposition.

After a damning report by Amnesty International on the aftermath of the battle for Raqqa was dismissed by participating governments, the international rights groups warned last year that the US-led coalition is in denial of the extent of civilian casualties caused by its bombing campaign in the city.

“The Coalition’s knee-jerk reactions are long on rhetoric and short on detail. They lay bare how deeply in denial the Coalition leadership is about its failure to protect civilians caught in conflict,” Amnesty’s Senior Crisis Response Advisor, Donatella Rovera, said.

The coalition has acknowledged only 23 civilian deaths resulting from the more than 30,000 artillery rounds and several thousand air strikes it launched into Raqqa city during its four-month military campaign from June to October 2017 against Daesh fighters; Amnesty puts the death toll in the thousands. Some nine months later the city remains in ruins and tens of thousands are displaced.

READ: 3,000 Daesh members surrender in Syria

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