An increasing number of reports indicate that armed anti-regime brigades are surrounding the city of Raqqa in northeast Syria with the plan to enter it. There have already been some attacks on the outskirts of the city. Raqqa is among the few relatively safe areas in Syria that civilians can still to escape to. As a result, the city is now heavily, densely populated hosting nearly three million people more than half of whom are internally displaced living in very dire conditions.
Pushing the city into armed conflict will result in a tragedy to add to the countless tragedies the Syrians are already suffering. It is even more tragic considering that the city will probably not play any strategic role in settling the conflict in Syria.
The location of Raqqa near Tabaqa military airport, which is under the control of the regime, ensures that the city will be under immediate threat of aerial bombardment by regime forces. The regime has demonstrated its brutal contempt for the civilian lives through countless massacres and bombings. There is no reason to doubt that it will destroy much of Raqqa just to make the population pay the price as it has done elsewhere.
Moreover, much of the Raqqa area is built on a thin layer of ground covering large amount of water, making it particularly vulnerable to air bombardment. This risks an increased risk of landslides and collapse of buildings.
All of these risks, in addition to the lack of relief capabilities in the region, have led us to launch this emergency appeal to all the local forces and international actors. We urge them to do what they can to prevent an imminent humanitarian catastrophe.
We hope Syrian civil society will join in calling for the protection of the civilians of Raqqa, and appeal to all military leaders to prevent this disaster.
We also urge the anti-government brigade commanders to reconsider any plan to enter areas teeming with civilians. The large number of civilians who have fallen victims to the armed conflict should be a motivation for them to take care not to endanger civilians further.
It is also vital that the international community does all it can to reduce the risks to Raqqa as part of a process of calming the crisis leading to a political solution.