The United Nations called Thursday for a temporary halt in military bombardments around the Islamic State’s stronghold in Raqqa, Syria, to help thousands of civilians flee the terror group’s de facto capital, with a top official saying he “cannot think of a worse place on Earth” than ISIS-held Raqqa.
“On Raqqa, our urging today from the U.N. side to the members of the Humanitarian Task Force, including the members of the Coalition that is helping retake Raqqa, is that they need to do whatever is possible to make it possible for people to escape Raqqa,” Jan Egeland, Special Adviser to the U.N. Special Envoy for Syria, told reporters in Geneva.
Egeland described a situation in which civilians in the ISIS-controlled territory are bombarded with heavy shelling and constant air raids from coalition forces, making it difficult for those seeking to flee the hellish regime to do so.
“So now is the time to think of possibilities, pauses or otherwise that might facilitate the escape of civilians, knowing that Islamic State fighters are doing their absolute best to use them as human shields. I cannot think of a worse place on earth now than in these five neighborhoods and for these 20,000 people,” he said.
Egeland said that, while many civilians have fled the area, with U.N. officials reaching over 260,000 in July alone, around 20,000 remain in the give neighborhoods in Raqqa held by ISIS. He said that, while ISIS has a disregard for civilian life, “this is the time to try anything to allow their safe escape.”
“At the moment, few people leave because they are afraid for their lives, really. They fear certainly from those holding those areas, but they also fear for shelling and air raids,” he said.
The Washington Post reports that monitoring groups have blamed U.S.-led coalition forces for hundreds of civilian deaths. There is no doubt however that the cause of the turmoil is the Islamic State, who prevents residents from fleeing on penalty of death and use civilians as human shields.
The State Department pushed back against the U.N.’s plea, telling the Post that any pause in operations could give ISIS more time to build its defenses and reinforce its tactics of using civilians as human shield.
“There are no simple solutions in such a complex situation.” the spokesperson said.
The U.N. Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura will brief the United Nations Security Council in New York City next week.
Adam Shaw is a Breitbart News politics reporter based in New York. Follow Adam on Twitter: @AdamShawNY.