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UN Investigators Decry 'Staggering' Loss Of Civilian Lives In Raqqa Air Strikes

According to the UN, the intensification of air strikes in Raqqa has resulted in a "staggering loss of civilian life." (file photo)

UN war crimes investigators have expressed alarm over what one called the "staggering" number of civilian deaths caused by U.S.-led coalition air strikes on Islamic State (IS) targets in the Syrian city of Raqqa.

In an address to the UN Human Rights Council on June 14, the head of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria noted that an ongoing offensive by a Syrian Arab-Kurdish alliance could liberate Raqqa's civilian population from the IS group's "oppressive clutches."

But Paolo Pinheiro added that the push must not be "undertaken at the expense of civilians."

The intensification of air strikes 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 said.

Over the past week, fighters of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have pushed into the west, east, and north of Raqqa, the IS group's (IS) stronghold and self-declared capital in Syria.

Hundreds of civilians are reported to have been killed in the area since March.

The coalition estimates that the city, which the IS group seized from Syrian rebels in 2014, is defended by up to 4,000 militants.

There are between 50,000 and 100,000 civilians trapped there with them, according to UN officials.

Based on reporting by dpa, AFP, and the BBC