May 26, 2017 / 9:17 AM / 2 years ago

U.N. rights boss decries civilian casualties in Syria air strikes

GENEVA (Reuters) - The U.N. human rights chief called on all air forces operating in Syria on Friday to take greater care to distinguish between legitimate military targets and civilians in their escalating air strikes especially in the northeast against Islamic State.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein of Jordan address a news conference during his visit in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, May 4, 2017. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

“The rising toll of civilian deaths and injuries already caused by airstrikes in Deir-ez-Zor and Al-Raqqa suggests that insufficient precautions may have been taken in the attacks,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said in a statement.

Air strikes in mid-May killed nearly two dozen farmworkers, most of them women, in a village in eastern Raqqa and at least 59 civilians in residential areas of Deir al-Zor, Zeid said.

An air strike on Thursday evening killed at least 35 civilians, including family members of Islamic State fighters, in al-Mayadin, a town held by the jihadists near Deir al-Zor in eastern Syria, a war monitor reported.

A spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State told Reuters that its forces had conducted strikes near al-Mayadin on May 25 and 26 and were assessing the results.

Zeid’s spokesman Rupert Colville told a Geneva briefing on Friday: “There are multiple air forces operating in this part of Syria including the (U.S.-led) coalition, mainly the coalition. We also understand that there are Iraqi airplanes as well.”

“I can’t begin to identify who is responsible,” he added.

Islamic State forces, fighting to keep their stronghold in northeast Syria, have carried out summary executions of civilians, including slitting the throats of eight men at sites of air strikes after accusing them or providing coordinates, Zeid said.

“Unfortunately, scant attention is being paid by the outside world to the appalling predicament of the civilians trapped in these areas,” he added.

The U.N. human rights office also voiced concern at credible reports that Islamic State is preventing civilians from leaving areas under their control, noting that this violated international law.

“Unfortunately there is little doubt that ISIL (Islamic State) continues constantly to kill and endanger civilians, committing war crimes without any compunction whatsoever,” Zeid said.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Gareth Jones

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