First civilians return to Raqqa after mines cleared

AFP, Beirut

Hundreds of civilians have returned to a battered district of Syria’s Raqa in what a US-backed force said was the first wave of returns since it cleared explosives left by militants.

The ISIS group lost control of Raqqa – once its primary Syrian bastion – on October 17 after a months-long battle with the Syrian Democratic Forces.

Tens of thousands of people fled the city during the offensive, reducing Raqqa to a ghost town of collapsed buildings.

The SDF said in an online statement on Sunday that hundreds of families had returned to ql-Meshleb, Raqqa’s easternmost district.

“The SDF informed civilians from al-Meshleb that they could return to their homes after mine-removal teams had finished clearing the entire neighborhood of explosives left indiscriminately in civilian homes by ISIS,” the force’s press center said

 

A woman cries as she looks at her house in Raqa on October 20, 2017, after a Kurdish-led force expelled the Islamic State group from the northern Syrian city.
For three years, Raqa saw some of IS’s worst abuses and grew into one of its main governance hubs, a centre for both its potent propaganda machine and its unprecedented experiment in jihadist statehood.
/ AFP PHOTO / BULENT KILIC

It said the district was the first to which residents had returned since the city’s “liberation from Daesh”, an Arabic acronym for ISIS.

After capturing Raqqa, the SDF sealed off the city to allow for mine removal operations in bombed-out neighborhoods.

Residents often amassed at checkpoints in recent weeks, waiting for permission to access the city and see if their homes were still standing.

Some civilians who sneaked in were killed by unexploded ordnance.

Mine-clearing and reconstruction operations in Raqqa are being coordinated by the Raqqa Civil Council, a provisional local government body appointed by the SDF but based outside the city.

“Yes, residents of Al-Meshleb returned to their homes – but the whole city hasn’t been cleared of mines yet,” senior council member Omar Alloush told AFP on Monday.

The deputy head of the council’s reconstruction committee, Nazmi Mohammad, said the body had dispatched 10 bulldozers to Raqqa to help clear rubble and blocked-off roads in al-Meshleb.

After capturing Raqqa in 2014, ISIS used the city as a hub for the administration of its self-styled “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria.

Following months of losses in the face of multiple offensives, touted ISIS fighters are now defending their last redoubts further down the Euphrates Valley.

More than 330,000 people have been killed since Syria’s conflict erupted in March 2011 with anti-government protests that were brutally suppressed.

 

About The Author

Sound and Picture organization: We are a group of Syrian human rights activists. We noticed the lack of bodies which document abuses against civilians inside Syria, therefore we decided to establish this project, it is specialized to document the violations which have committed by all sides in the ongoing conflict in Syria against civilians in a professional way. The organization is documenting all kinds of violations, and working on the accounting for the groups which committed these violations by the international community. The organization is completely independent, and does not follow any political or military bodies, whether inside or outside Syria.

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