Syria Democratic Forces initiate offensive to retake Raqqa, thousands of civilians at risk
The US-backed Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition of Kurdish and ethnic Arab militias, began an offensive this week to retake the city of Raqqa from the Islamic State (ISIL). Raqqa has served as the de-facto “capital” of ISIL’s caliphate since it took over large swaths of territory across Iraq and Syria in 2014. The SDF will be supported in the push to retake Raaqa by US-led coalition airstrikes. However, the offensive has already encountered some issues, as the Syrian Arab contingent of the SDF fighting to regain the city, known as the Raqqa Revolutionary Brigade, withdrew from the battle on Thursday, citing operational disagreements with the US and Kurdish forces.
The offensive for Raqqa has begun in parallel to efforts initiated last month by the Iraqi military and US-led coalition forces, in conjunction with Kurdish Peshmerga forces, Sunni tribal fighters, and Shia paramilitary militias, to eradicate the ISIL from Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. ISIL has continued their trademark brutal attacks in recent weeks as the remains of nearly 100 beheaded civilians were found on Monday in a mass grave in a town just south of Mosul. According to the UN, ISIL is now seizing boys as young as 9 years old to fight on their behalf.
Civilians in Raqqa also face similarly extreme risks as those in Mosul. A US-led coalition airstrike on Wednesday killed at least 20 civilians, including six women and one child, in a village just north of Raqqa. Coalition officials have confirmed that strikes were conducted in the area of the reported attack, but have stopped short of “conclusively determining responsibility for civilian casualties.” An investigation into the incident is ongoing. The SDF have reported that nearly 200 families have fled the area as ISIL fighters have begun to infiltrate the town seeking civilians to use as human shields.
Source for above photo of civilians fleeing ISIL-controlled areas on 8 November 2016: Middle East Eye
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On Monday, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) announced that, for the first time in 4 weeks, the World Food Programme would be allowed to bring aid to four villages in Rakhine State. This would mark for the first aid shipment since violence struck the area on 9 October. However, OCHA continues to demand full access to the entire state.
The UN Security Council (UNSC) has dispatched UN Envoy on Conflict Prevention, Jamal Benomar, to consult with the government following recent tensions between the government and the UN. Burundi has rejected the UNSC resolution on establishing a UN police presence in the country and Benomar said he would listen to the concerns of the government, as he believes that an inclusive dialogue is needed to reach consensus on how to move forward.
Democratic Republic of Congo:
Police fired teargas in attempts to disperse opposition supporters taking part in a rally on Saturday against the ban on public protests and plans by President Joseph Kabila to stay in power beyond the end of the constitutional limit at the end of this year. Radio signals for international channels, including those sponsored by the UN, saw their services shut off during the protest by the government. Meanwhile, the opposition plans to continue their protests and is confident that that the UN Security Council’s visit to the country next week will spur change.
A bomb exploded in the eastern city of Goma on Tuesday, killing one child and wounding 32 UN peacekeepers. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.
Iraqi Federal Police allegedly extra judicially executed at least six civilians in areas south of Mosul last month after being accused of being members of Islamic State (ISIL), according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). The human rights group has called on Iraqi authorities to initiate a full-scale investigation into the incident so as to avoid the widespread perpetration of war crimes throughout the region.
A new Data Snapshot released by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) puts the total number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Iraq at 34,860. Nearly 80% of the IDPs in the country have been displaced fleeing the armed conflict in Mosul.
Late last week, the International Crisis Group released a report calling for new peace talks in Libya and stressing the need for engagement of key actors who have previously been excluded from the process. The report also pointed out that the stalemate of the UN-brokered peace agreement has resulted in worsening living conditions and increased violence and organized crime.
On Monday, African leaders reviewed the crisis in Libya at an African Union (AU) mini-summit in Addis Ababa and noted that there is no military solution to the conflict. The summit stressed the need for a solution and discussed how to ensure lasting peace in the country.
Another political dialogue on the situation in Libya took place in Malta on Thursday, led by UN Special Envoy Martin Kobler. The Foreign Affairs Minister of Malta expressed his concern for the situation in the country and urged the parties to find a solution acceptable to everyone all parties might endorse a Government of National Accord.
Late last week, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Foreign affairs, said that Nigeria will not withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC), but prefers to work towards improving the methods of the Court to make it more efficient. She also added a call to other countries, who are not yet parties of the statute, to become such, since it is only through working together that the ICC will be able to serve humanity and bring perpetrators to justice.
On Thursday, UN Under-Secretary-General Hervé Ladsous announced the establishment of a new task force to carry out the recommendations from an independent inquiry into the outbreak of violence in Juba in July. The resulting report accused the UN mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) of failing to protect civilians during the crisis due to lack of leadership.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Wednesday that more than 16,000 children are associated with armed groups in South Sudan, including about 800 children recruited in 2016.
Clashes between armed cattles herders and farmers killed at least 15 people in South Darfur this week. The killings are a part of a much larger, protracted conflict dating back to 2003 between government-backed Arab cattle herders and tribal farmers.
Human Rights Watch has reported that Russian and Syrian airstrikes on a school complex that killed 14 children in Idlib on 26 October could constitute war crimes. The deadly attack is the 39th on a school this year in Syria, bringing the total number of children killed in school bombings this year to 46. Approximately 1.7 million children are not in school and nearly 1 in 3 schools have been destroyed as a result of the nearly six year old conflict.
A US-led coalition airstrike on Wednesday killed at least 16 civilians, including six women and one child, in a village just north of the city of Raqqa. Coalitions officials are investigating reports of the incident. The strikes come amidst a recent Centcom report, which states that US airstrikes across Iraq and Syria have killed at least 119 civilians since operations against ISIL began in 2014.
The humanitarian situation
A UN humanitarian adviser stated Thursday that the last remaining food rations are currently being distributed amongst the 275,000 civilians that remain in rebel-held eastern Aleppo. There has not been a significant delivery of humanitarian supplies to the area since July due to the Syrian government’s renewed siege of the city. The UN has presented all involved parties with a humanitarian initiative, which includes emergency evacuations for at least 300 patients, delivery of urgent food and medical supplies, and permission for medical personnel to enter the city.
On Friday, as UN Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheickh Ahmed held meetings with the Houthi rebels in Sana’a, ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, a powerful Houthi ally, welcomed the previously presented UN peace proposal and called it a “good basis for negotiations”. The current president has rejected the peace plan due to its legitimization of the Houthi government and refused to meet the UN Special Envoy in protest. Protesters have also helddemonstrations against the peace plan the streets in government-controlled cities.
On Tuesday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that at least 7,000 people have died and more than 36,818 have been injured through the conflict in Yemen. Another 21 million Yemenis are in urgent need of medical assistance, but the majority of health facilities are now closed or only partially functioning. The UN Special Envoy to Yemen warned of the dangerous situation for the Yemeni people and once again called for an end to the civil war.
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