Whether from ISIS shells or US-led coalition bombs, civilians suffering in Mosul

The fight for Mosul, Islamic State’s capital in Iraq, is taking a heavy toll on the city’s civilian population. RT recounts the horrifying stories of some of the victims.

While the US-led coalition claims it does everything possible to avoid “collateral damage” when conducting airstrikes on Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), in reality, civilians wounded in their attacks are suffering just the same as those hurt by the shells and snipers of the jihadists.

Here are some of the stories that victims told RT’s sister video agency, Ruptly, about the siege in Mosul.

Iraq: Severely injured 5-yo girl sole survivor of Mosul airstrike

Five-year-old Hawraa was severely injured on March 16, when an airstrike destroyed her family’s home in the Jadeda neighborhood, said her father Ala, who believes the bombs were intended for IS fighters manning a shooting position in a house nearby.

“There were four people in the house, only she survived,” he said. Hawraa’s mother was among those killed in the coalition airstrike.

Iraq: Civilians trapped under rubble after deadly airstrikes destroy Mosul homes *GRAPHIC*

When airstrikes destroyed several houses on Tal Alruman street on March 11, as many as 25 people were left trapped under the debris, and their neighbors and relatives were unable to get them out, Fath Ahmad Abdulla, whose brother was among the victims, told Ruptly.

“ISIS was fighting here, behind the house. They tried to run behind the school. Then the house was bombed by aircraft,” he explained.

Another resident, Abdulhamed Mahmud, said more than 100 houses had been hit by airstrikes in the neighborhood since the siege began.

Ibrahim Rfaee was burying his grandmother Khalas when Ruptly interviewed him on March 12. Khalas was killed by a stray bullet while fleeing Mosul’s Tal Alruman district, which has been subjected to what he called “random bombing” by the coalition.

“Daesh go on the rooftops of the houses and the families don’t know. Then the aircrafts come and bomb it,” he explained, referring to the terrorist group by its Arabic acronym. “We are asking the coalition planes to be specific when they bomb. They were bombing randomly,” he stressed.

Iraq: Victims of Iraqi forces and IS fighters treated at hospital in Kurdistan

On March 7, Ruptly interviewed several patients at West Erbil Emergency Hospital in Iraqi Kurdistan, who were being treated for injuries received during the Mosul siege.

“When the army entered our neighborhood, they started fighting with ISIS, and we were in the middle, on the receiving end of both sides,” one Mosul resident said.

“ISIS came and kicked us out of our house. We ran looking for a safe place, and suddenly there was an explosion,” said another. “My father was injured and my brother was killed. My younger brother and sister were hit on the head and I was hit on the shoulder.”

READ MORE: 360° car bomb: Death machine filmed by RT Ruptly in bombed-out Mosul house (VIDEO)

There are an estimated 600,000 civilians caught in the crossfire of the Mosul operation, with tens of thousands fleeing the violence over the past month. The number of civilian deaths is difficult to estimate, and it is even harder to attribute them to either IS attacks or US-coalition airstrikes.

The US has given a conservative figure of 200 for civilian deaths inflicted by coalition airstrikes in Mosul, but a UK-based monitoring group, Airwars, says the true number may be more than ten times higher.

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‘They were bombing randomly’: Mosul civilians doubt coalition’s careful targeting claims

The US-led coalition fighting to retake Mosul says it takes every precaution to assure civilians are not harmed in its airstrikes on Islamic State militants, but those who have lost family members in coalition attacks doubt the veracity of that claim.

“Daesh [Islamic State, IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL] go on the rooftops of the houses and the families don’t know, then the aircraft come and bomb it,” Mosul resident Ibrahim Rfaee told RT’s Ruptly, referring to the terrorist group by its derogative Arabic acronym.

Iraq: Civilians trapped under rubble after deadly airstrikes destroy Mosul homes *GRA

Ibrahim’s grandmother, Khalas, was killed last week, apparently by an IS sniper, as she was trying to escape from Mosul’s jihadist-controlled Tal Alruman neighborhood into Mahmoun, which had already been seized by Iraqi special forces. RT’s sister video agency caught up with Ibrahim and his family on Sunday as they were burying Khalas at a local cemetery.

 

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Ibrahim said the coalition is not as precise and careful in targeting its airstrikes as it claims to be in media conferences.

“We are asking for bombing specific targets. There are still families inside the houses and the aircraft keep bombing. We are asking the coalition planes to be specific when they bomb. They were bombing randomly,” he said.

Similar reports have been coming from other media outlets. The Daily Telegraph reported from the Samood neighborhood that an airstrike apparently targeting a single IS fighter had killed a dozen civilians instead, according to witnesses.

“The planes waited until one of the Daesh walked out into the street and then they struck. The fighter was only injured, but 11 members of one family in the house next door were instantly killed,” a resident named Hashem Abdullah told the British newspaper.

“They dropped leaflets over the city telling us not to worry about the strikes, saying that they were extremely precise and would not hurt the civilians,” said Yusuf Ahmed, who lost his brother and his young family to a coalition airstrike. “Now it feels like the coalition is killing more people than [Islamic State],” he said.

Iraq: Coalition planes stop 'bombing randomly' pleads Mosul resident

 The Iraqi army says it has captured about a third of the western part of Mosul. The UN estimates that 5,000 people on average have been fleeing the city every day since the siege intensified in February.

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US confirms deployment of hundreds of Marines to Syria to fight ISIS

Hundreds of US Marines have arrived in Syria to establish an outpost in support of the operation to retake the city of Raqqa, the de-facto Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) capital in the country, the US-led coalition confirmed on Thursday.
 

"We are talking about an additional 400 or so forces in total, and they will be there for a temporary period," coalition spokesman US Air Force Colonel John Dorrian said, as cited by Reuters.

The deployment is an addition to the existing 500 US forces already in Syria and is aimed at accelerating the defeat of IS in its Syrian stronghold of Raqqa city, Dorrian said.

According to the official, the additional forces would be working with local partners in Syria – the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Syrian Arab Coalition. He stressed they would not have a frontline role.

Dorrian said the new forces comprised a Marines artillery unit and Army Rangers.

Reports of the new deployment first surfaced in US media on Wednesday.

The Washington Post, which was the first to break the news citing anonymous defense officials, stated that the marines will be working to establish an outpost from which they can fire artillery in support of the fight for Raqqa.

According to the newspaper, the new deployment is part of an amphibious task force of the 11th US Marine Expeditionary Unit, which left San Diego on Navy ships in October. It includes part of an artillery battery that can fire 155mm shells from M777 Howitzers.

The Washington Post said that the marines will be based within no more than 32km (20 miles) from the frontline outside Raqqa, as that is the maximum range of their artillery.

“The marines answer a problem that the [operation] has faced. [They now provide] all-weather fires considering how the weather is this time of year in northern Syria,” an official was cited as saying.

NBC on its part reported that the taskforce was pulled from Kuwait, also citing US defense officials, adding that the deployment is part of the new effort to “accelerate the fight” against the militants. 

READ MORE: 'Russia practically mediating between NATO members US & Turkey over Syria'

The news of the US deployment comes after American soldiers were spotted traveling in an armored convoy near the Syrian city of Manbij, some 100km northwest of Raqqa, over the weekend in Strykers – heavily-armed, eight-wheel armored vehicles. The US-led coalition in Syria confirmed the presence of American forces around Manbij on Saturday, with US spokesman calling it a “deliberate action” aimed at ensuring that forces within the US-led coalition “keep the focus on defeating ISIS.”

Raqqa has an estimated 3,000-4,000 IS fighters, but the group’s leaders have been rapidly fleeing the city lately - with the advance of liberation forces, the New York Times said on Wednesday citing a US defense official. The operation to liberate the city from terrorists, codenamed Operation Euphrates Rage, was launched by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on November 5, 2016.

In the most recent development, on Monday, the SDF announced that they had severed the road between Raqqa and Deir ez-Zur to the east, cutting off a supply route for the extremist group and further isolating the militants in the city, Rudaw media network reported.

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Liberation of Palmyra planned & conducted under auspice of Russian military advisors – MoD

The Syrian army’s major offensive to retake the ancient city of Palmyra from Islamic State militants was planned and coordinated by Russian military advisers, Russia’s General Staff said.

 

“The Syrian army’s operation in Palmyra has been a remarkable success. It has been planned and carried out under the guidance of Russian military advisers,” Sergey Rudskoy, chief of the General Staff’s operations department, said on Friday.

Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) suffered heavy casualties, having lost over 1,000 militants killed or injured in action, along with 19 tanks, 37 armored fighting vehicles, 98 pickup trucks mounting heavy weaponry and 100 other combat vehicles, General Rudskoy added.

The Russian Air Force and Special Forces played a vital role in destroying IS positions outside Palmyra, he continued.

Russia’s brand new fixed- and rotor-wing aircraft, including the newest Kamov Ka-52 attack helicopters, were deployed in the operation.

The airstrikes intentionally did not target locations of Palmyra’s historical monuments in order to preserve the city’s cultural heritage.

At this point, the city is fully cleared of IS militants, he said, while the government troops have seized strategic heights south of the city, carrying on with their offensive eastwards.

IS’s defenses around Palmyra begun to crumble on Thursday, after the Syrian Army and allied units reached the city's outskirts, supported by Russian Air Force.

Syria: Syrian Arab Army retakes strategic Palmyra Triangle

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A key role was played by the “ISIS Hunters” – an elite Syrian force which was trained by Russian advisers in Syria. The unit will now be in charge of guarding the city and its key infrastructure, to prevent it from falling back into the hands of ISIS. RT’s Lizzy Phelan witnessed the special operators firsthand during the operation to retake Palmyra.

Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, fell to IS in 2015. The Syrian government had liberated the city from IS terrorists in March last year, but lost it again several months later.

After seizing the city for the second time, the terror group destroyed part of the Roman theater and the legendary Tetrapylon in the ancient city.

The destruction was described as “a war crime” and “an immense loss for the Syrian people and for humanity” by UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.

Before the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011, Palmyra was a top tourist attraction – famed for its one-of-their-kind Roman buildings and archaeological treasures that IS sought to annihilate – attracting tens of thousands of visitors each year.

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Syrian Army Enters Palmyra, Drives Back Islamic State Group

Islamic State group has razed ancient monuments during both of its periods controlling Palmyra, an act the U.N. has condemned as a war crime.

Syrian government forces and their allies fought their way into Palmyra Wednesday, driving back the Islamic State group who have held the historic city since December, the Syrian Army said.

RELATED: How Most of the U.S. Left Failed Syria

"The army's entry to the city will begin very soon," A Syrian military source told Reuters earlier Wednesday. The army said it had captured an area known as the "Palmyra triangle" a few miles west of the city after rapid advances in recent days backed by Russian air strikes.

A media outlet affiliated with Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite group fighting alongside the Syrian government, reported that the Syrian army and its allies had recaptured the Palmyra citadel, on the city's western outskirts, and seized a modern palatial complex to the southwest.

The Islamic State group has captured Palmyra, whose ancient ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, twice during Syria's six-year conflict. But the army recaptured the city from the ultra-hardline group in March 2016, while the Islamic State group seized it again in December.

The group has razed ancient monuments during both of its spells in control of Palmyra – destruction the United Nations has condemned as a war crime.

Photos published on an Islamic State group Telegram account Wednesday showed the group's fighters firing at the Syrian army with rockets and a tank, Reuters said.

RELATED: Who is Who in Syria's Civil War?

The Islamic State group first captured Palmyra from the government in 2015. During its first period in control of the site, the extremists destroyed monuments including a 1,800-year-old monumental arch.

Most recently, the group has razed the landmark Tetrapylon, a platform with four columns at each corner, and the facade of Palmyra's Roman Theatre. Palmyra, known in Arabic as Tadmur, stood at the crossroads of the ancient world.

The government and its allies lost Palmyra as they focused on defeating Syrian anti-government groups in eastern Aleppo. The groups were driven from eastern Aleppo in December, the government's biggest victory.

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Russia-US relations are at their worst since Cold War – Moscow

Relations between Russia and the United States are at their worst since the Cold War, a Russian Foreign Ministry official has said, placing the blame on the Obama administration.

“The current state of relations between Russia and the United States, as we all know, to put it mildly, leaves much to be desired. It is no exaggeration to say that our relations today are, in fact, at their worst for the whole period after the Cold War,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said on Tuesday in the State Duma.

The foundation of cooperation that had been gradually created over the course of many years was almost completely destroyed in a short period of time by the previous US administration,” the minister noted, claiming that former US President Barack Obama and his entourage “began to turn towards a strain, and then a confrontation with us long before the Ukrainian crisis.”

“A variety of pressure tools have been used against Russia… in December 2012, Washington adopted the odious Magnitsky act, launched a permanent hunt for our citizens across the world, as in the case of Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko, tried to discredit the Olympics in Sochi,” Ryabkov said, noting that after the coup in Kiev in 2014 “the rate of all-out landslide degradation of our relations accelerated sharply.” 

Ryabkov said that the Obama administration acted without common sense both in the run-up to the US election and afterwards, further fueling anti-Russian sentiment.

Just beyond understanding and common sense was what happened before and after the presidential election in the United States… In the wake of slanderous accusations that Russia interfered in the election process, the Obama administration caused Russophobic hysteria,” the minister said.

READ MORE: US eases some restrictions on dealing with Russian Intel, but says 'no shift of policy'

He added that opponents of US President Donald Trump continue to fuel Russophobia in an attempt to discredit the new head of state, who has on a number of occasions expressed a friendlier attitude towards Russia. 

The new president of the United States was immediately faced with a well-established anti-Russian attitude among the Washington elite, shared, in fact, by all the functioning cogs of the American political class. Trump’s opponents continue to fuel Russophobia as one of the central elements to their massive campaign aimed at discrediting the new US administration,” Ryabkov stated.

This strategy, he said, may lead to a further worsening of relations, but Moscow will wait for Trump to settle in before making any definitive conclusions.

It is obvious that to some extent the US-Russia relationship may fall victim to these malicious efforts. We understand this and currently work to minimize the possible damage in this regard… We do not dramatize the situation. We understand that Trump and his appointees need time to fine-tune the foreign policy and specify their priorities,” Ryabkov said.

Among Washington’s tools for putting pressure on Russia are sanctions. In 2014, when a coup in Kiev resulted in the Ukrainian region of Crimea voting to become part of Russia, and conflict emerged between Kiev and eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region, the US began imposing sanctions on Russia, with 172 Russian citizens and 350 different entities blacklisted to date, including flagship Russian banks.

Trump has said on several occasions that lifting the sanctions is possible, yet according to Ryabkov, the issue has not yet been discussed with the new administration.

“I once again… declare that in contacts with the Americans, we have not discussed and will not discuss the criteria for lifting sanctions. If we talk about sanctions, because of which, trade with the United States sank by almost a third from $29 billion in 2014 to less than $20 billion last year, we never asked for them to be cancelled and are not going to do it.”

Ryabkov stated that despite the current state of affairs, Moscow hopes to establish constructive cooperation with Washington.

I would like to believe that the change in Washington will create a door of opportunity to improve the situation in the dialogue between our countries… We are open to constructive cooperation with the US,” the minister said, stressing that this dialogue should be built on the basis of equality and “without attempts to blackmail.”

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Turkey does not want ‘to gain control’ over Syria – Erdogan adviser to RT

Taking control over Syria is not a goal of the Turkish government, Ilnur Cevik, an adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told RT’s SophieCo show, adding that Turkey’s real aim is to defeat Islamic State (IS, former ISIS/ISIL).

Turkey “doesn't want to gain any control on Syria. It wants to finish off Daesh, the so called 'Islamic State' militants. It wants to wipe them out,”Cevik said ahead of his visit to Moscow on February 26, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

He went on to say that “when we finish off Daesh, if the area is properly secured and we know that they will never come back, Turkey will not remain in that country.”

He also called the seizure of the northern Syrian town of Al-Bab and Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield in northern Syria “a great success.”

“It was a very, very successful operation. Nobody would've been able to secure this kind of operation. In 100 days, we've cleared away the entire region – 45km deep into Syria and 90km at length. So, it's a huge area of more than 5,000 square km. That was a big achievement. Al-Bab itself is a very big achievement,” he said.

He also thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for ensuring cooperation between Moscow and Ankara and giving Turkey an opportunity to conduct its operation without any unnecessary interference from other warring parties in the region.

“The Russians and Turkey are very closely coordinating everything at the moment, and the Russians keeping the Syrians informed about what's going on, and they are keeping the Syrians at bay. So, we have no problems with Russia or Syria. It's a perfect, smooth operation at the moment, thanks to President Putin,” Cevik said.

Meanwhile, Turkish military confirmed that Syrian armed opposition groups backed by Turkey’s forces had retaken all Al-Bab neighborhoods from Islamic State, as reported by Reuters. They also said that the troops are now working on clearing mines and unexploded ordnance in the area.

 
On Thursday, Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik told journalists in the city of Izmir that the Syrian rebels supported by Turkey seized Al-Bab’s city center.

Cevik also stressed that Turkish forces have good chances of seizing Islamic State’s Syrian capital, Raqqa, located in the eastern part of the country. “Turkey has enough forces to do this. Besides, the tribes around Raqqa are Arab tribes which are very close to Turkey. They would prefer Turkey more than they would do Kurds, Syrians or Americans,” he told RT’s SophieCo.

Earlier, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed that the Turkish forces would continue their advance to Islamic State’s Syrian capital or Raqqa once they seize Al Bab.

“The ultimate goal is to cleanse a 5,000-square-kilometer area,” Erdogan told the news conference at that time, as cited by Reuters.

However, Cevik told RT that Turkey is not planning to establish a ‘safe zone’ in Raqqa and instead is going to create it on the territory it already cleared of Islamic State terrorists. He also stressed that this particular plan includes creation of a no-fly zone in the area to provide security for all the Syrian refugees Turkey plans to resettle there.

The Turkish president’s advisor also once again said that Turkey demands that Syrian Kurdish militia units, the YPG, leave the Syrian northern town of Manbij and retreat to the east of the Euphrates, adding that they could be moved out by force if they do not comply.

Answering to a question about the Syrian Kurds, he said that “to the West of Euphrates, there's a place called Manbij, and we want the Syrians out of that place, out of Manbij, we want the Syrians out of all the areas to the West of Euphrates. So, we want them to move to the east of Euphrates. If they don't, we are going to clean them out of Manbij. So, after Manbij Turks may proceed through this area.”

Cevik also expressed skepticism concerning the YPG’s ability to liberate Raqqa from Islamic State.

“We see that the Syrian Kurds will not be really capable of liberating Raqqa, simply because … they don't have enough forces, even though they have American arms …[as] in Raqqa, there are 75,000 Daesh fighters in the area. They are a formidable force,” he said, adding that “only strong countries like Turkey, Russia could handle this and cope with [Islamic State].”

Turkey launched its Operation Euphrates Shield in northern Syria on August 24, 2016, with a stated goal of liberating the area from terrorist groups and creating a safe zone along its border with Syria. However, Turkish ground and air forces deployed to the area also engaged in fighting with the YPG.

In late December 2016, the Turkish military said that 1,294 Islamic State militants had been “neutralized” during the operation, in its fifth month at the time, with 1,171 of them killed. Turkish forces also “neutralized” 306 Kurdish YPG fighters, killing 291 of them, the ministry added.

'US disqualified itself from the Syrian equation'

Meanwhile, Cevik said that Western influence on the situation on the ground in Syria is becoming increasingly marginal, while the real peace process is facilitated by Russia and Turkey.

“The US has already disqualified itself from the Syrian equation for a very long time. If President Trump decides that he should have a say, some way or another, and if he sits down with President Putin and President Erdogan, nobody will object to that. But I cannot see the Americans for a long time trying to decide on what they want to do,” he told RT, adding that “without the Americans, Western involvement is mainly a joke.”

The Turkish president’s adviser also said he is skeptical about any potential US invasion in Syria. “I don't think it's going to turn into a full-scale U.S. intervention, I don't think the U.S. wants to be involved in that kind of intervention,” he stressed.

At the same time, he praised the success Russia and Turkey had in brokering a nationwide ceasefire in Syria and facilitating talks between the Syrian government and the opposition that followed the establishment of the ceasefire.

“The fact that the ceasefire is holding is thanks to Russia and Turkey. They have done a marvelous job in stopping this fighting, nobody could ever achieve this and nobody has achieved it until now – so we have done a great job and I think we should be applauded for that,” Cevik told RT.

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Putin says sending Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier group to Syria’s shores was his own idea

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that the idea to send a Russian aircraft carrier group to Syria was his own, adding that Russia does not intend to interfere in Syria’s internal affairs, but wants to deal with the terrorists.

Russia’s aircraft carrier group from the Northern Fleet inflicted significant damage to extremist groups in Syria, Putin said at a meeting with the officers who distinguished themselves during the operation in the Mediterranean near Syria’s shores.

You have fulfilled all the tasks that were given to you and inflicted significant damage to the international terrorist groups by hitting their bases, ammunition storages, equipment, and infrastructure,” he said.

The Russian military has greatly contributed to international anti-terrorist efforts and “helped to create conditions for the peace talks between the Syrian government and the armed opposition,” Putin said.

The Russian president added that Russia’s goal in Syria is to stabilize the legitimate government and to “put an end to the terrorist blight.”

Our goal is to stabilize the legitimate government and strike a decisive blow to the international terrorism,” Putin said, adding that “the sooner the country [Syria] will proceed with political settlement the more chances the international community will have in putting an end to the terrorist blight on the Syrian territory.”

He went on to say that more than 4,000 militants from Russia and 5,000 from the former USSR are fighting with extremists in Syria, citing Russian intelligence data.

The president said that this poses a serious threat to Russia’s security and thanked the officers for doing their duty to protect the country.

The officers who took part in the operation told Putin that the aircraft carrier group was closely followed by NATO vessels, both on its way to Syria and on its way back to their Russian port, noting that “at least eight NATO warships” were around constantly whose actions were “far from friendly.”

The Russian naval group headed by the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier made headlines in 2016 when it was deployed to fight jihadists in the Middle East.

It departed from the town of Severomorsk, which is the main base of Russia’s Northern fleet, in October of last year. A month later, it carried out its first combat mission in the Mediterranean.

Its flagship aircraft carrier – manned by nearly 2,500 crew members and carrying dozens of fighter jets and helicopters – is also a missile cruiser equipped to protect itself from incoming air attacks.

The group also included the Peter the Great battle cruiser and other military ships equipped with precision weapons, as well as Kamov helicopters capable of carring out anti-submarine warfare, and search and rescue missions.

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