Water, power knocked out in A-Raqqa following dozens of air raids

AMMAN: One day after dozens of airstrikes damaged a hospital and other civilian infrastructure in the Islamic State-held city of A-Raqqa, local activists told Syria Direct on Wednesday that civilians remain caught between multiple military campaigns targeting IS.

“The people of A-Raqqa are caught between the knives of IS on the ground and bombardment by coalition, Russian and Syrian planes,” Iskander a-Raqqawi, an activist in the city told Syria Direct on Wednesday.

“Civilians are the victims.”

Opposition news sites reported that more than 25 airstrikes by "Russian warplanes" on Tuesday struck a mixture of residential neighborhoods, civilian infrastructure and IS targets. Damage included two bridges south of A-Raqqa, the city’s main hospital and a Hisbah station, or IS religious police, station.

Eleven civilians and four IS fighters were killed in Tuesday’s strikes, Abu Sham a-Raqqa, an activist in the provincial capital told Syria Direct on Wednesday.

Syria Direct could not independently verify that Russian warplanes carried out the attacks, a claim that has been repeated by activists from A-Raqqa and circulated by opposition media outlets since Tuesday.

The Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently media campaign said the strikes were carried out by Russian planes, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the strikes but did not definitively attribute them to US-led international coalition or Russian forces. Syrian and Russian state media did not mention Tuesday’s bombings.

The half dozen activists Syria Direct interviewed for this report cited Russian planes as the source of Tuesday’s airstrikes, which as a result “completely cut off water and electricity to A-Raqqa."

While “life returned in some sense” to A-Raqqa Wednesday morning as electricity and water were restored to some parts of the city, “civilians are still afraid,” Abu Sham a-Raqqa said.

 Damage to a bridge in A-Raqqa on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Ar-Raqqah.

IS-produced images of the destruction that circulated on social media sites after the raids show gaping holes in the two bridges over the Euphrates River south of A-Raqqa as well as a break in one of the water mains.

Most of Tuesday’s raids hit “public places where there are civilians,” Iskander a-Raqqawi told Syria Direct. The National Hospital, run by the Islamic State, is one of the city’s primary medical centers, with the neonatal intensive care unit and dialysis sections of the hospital bombed on Tuesday, a-Raqqawi said. “It is a public hospital for all civilians,” he added.  

IS imposed a curfew on the city’s residents during the bombardment, the Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS) media campaign reported.

With A-Raqqa city squarely in the crosshairs of rebel, regime, Russian and US-led international coalition forces ahead of an anticipated battle to retake it from the Islamic State, frightened civilians are literally trapped in the north-central provincial capital.

“A-Raqqa’s people are in a very difficult situation,” Abu Muadh, a resident of the city told Syria Direct Wednesday. Syrians are unable to move outside the city without a permit from IS authorities, who “forbid men under 40 from leaving,” Abu Ibrahim a-Raqqawi, an RBSS activist, told Syria Direct.

“I don’t think that civilians will attempt to flee A-Raqqa” in the coming days, a-Raqqawi said. Not only does the Islamic State carefully monitor all entry and exit points into the provincial capital, but “the people are poor, and can’t go to Turkey, for example, because of the high cost of living there.”

Defection rumors

Also on Tuesday, RBSS reported the “defection of the IS emir of the National Hospital in A-Raqqa” on social media, adding that the leader had turned himself in to “rebels in the Aleppo countryside.”

Syria Direct spoke with multiple opposition military sources and journalists in the Aleppo countryside on Wednesday, none of whom could confirm the defection of the damaged hospital’s IS administrator.

There was “no confirmation of the emir’s defection” from within A-Raqqa either, Iskander a-Raqqawi said.

A-Raqqawi expressed doubts that any IS defector would be trusted or accepted by opposition groups, particularly in the wake of the murder of two RBSS activists in southern Turkey last Friday. IS later claimed responsibility for the attacks.

“Even those who initially trust his defection may doubt it tomorrow.”

Ammar Hamou

Ammar Hammou is from Douma city in outer Damascus. He studied journalism at Damascus University and left Syria in 2011.

Maria Nelson

Maria Nelson was a 2014-2015 fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad program (CASA I) in Amman, Jordan. She holds a BA in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University, with a certificate in Arabic Language and Culture.