100,000 Return to Raqqa as UN Aid Reaches Syrian City

Wednesday, 4 April, 2018 - 18:00
Asharq Al-Awsat

Nearly 100,000 displaced people have returned to the Syrian city of Raqqa, the former bastion of the ISIS terrorist group in the war-torn country.

The group was defeated in October and head of the United Nations’ Syria humanitarian taskforce, Jan Egeland said Wednesday another 100,000 displaced are waiting near the city and want to go back.

Compounding the risks of returning is the near complete absence of basic services including water, electricity and healthcare.

"It is incredible to have a city with nearly 100,000 people and no public services," the UN official told reporters in Geneva. "There is no real police (or) law and order."

He announced that the UN had conducted its first humanitarian mission to Raqqa since its liberation from ISIS.

It warned however that returning civilians face enormous risks.

The city is littered with unexploded devices, Egeland said.

"Homes are still full of bombs (and) grenades. Children are still being maimed and killed," Egeland said, after receiving a report on the visit, which was carried out in recent days.

The battle against ISIS in Raqqa included a heavy bombardment by US-led coalition jets and left much of the city in tatters.

Egeland said the extent of the devastation observed by the UN team again raised the question of whether it was "necessary to totally destroy (Raqqa) to liberate it."

Egeland said team members described devastation "even worse" than in Homs and Aleppo, cities that were recaptured by Russian-backed Syrian regime forces.

Relief work in Raqqa had been carried out by local civil society groups, but Egeland said the UN expects to start its own humanitarian operations in the city soon.

The leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran have urged the international community to provide more aid for war-ravaged Syria.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Russian President Vladimir Putin called on Wednesday for bigger humanitarian aid supplies, as well as assistance in clearing land mines and aid to help restore the destroyed infrastructure.

Putin also issued a strong call on other nations to participate more actively in Syria's reconstruction efforts.

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