Soldiers patrol near destroyed buildings in Raqqa, the Syrian city that was a stronghold of the Islamic State. (Youssef Rabie Youssef/European Pressphoto Agency)
Soldiers patrol near destroyed buildings in Raqqa, the Syrian city that was a stronghold of the Islamic State. (Youssef Rabie Youssef/European Pressphoto Agency)

Intensified airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition have caused a “staggering” loss of civilian life around the Islamic State’s Syrian stronghold of Raqqa, a United Nations investigative body said Wednesday.

A U.S.-backed ground force entered the city with the help of coalition air raids last week, three years after the area became a hub from which Islamic State leaders planned expansion throughout the region and attacks around the world.

Paulo Pinheiro, the chairman of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria, said Wednesday that coalition airstrikes had now deepened suffering in a city already under the yoke of extremist fighters.

“We note in particular that the intensification of airstrikes, which have paved the ground for an SDF advance in Raqqa, has resulted not only in staggering loss of civilian life, but has also led to 160,000 civilians fleeing their homes and becoming internally displaced,” he told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The commission recorded 300 civilian deaths from coalition air strikes in Raqqa province between March 1 and May 31, according to Karen Abuzayd, an investigator for the Commission of Inquiry on Syria.

Human rights and monitoring groups have warned for months of the rising human cost of the coalition’s air war in Syria and Iraq as Islamic State forces bed in among densely populated civilian areas across what remains of the group’s so-called caliphate.

On March 22, the U.N. commission recorded 200 civilian deaths at an old school building in the village of Mansoura that was sheltering displaced families from across the province.

“These figures have been corroborated by multiple witnesses,” Abuzayd said.

The U.S. military said at the time that it was aware of the claims and was opening an investigation.

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