Red Cross plead for Syria and Iraq civilian safety

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THE International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) yesterday appealed to all parties in the escalating conflicts in Syria and Iraq to spare civilians and let 
in aid.

The proliferation of armed groups and air strikes in Iraq and Syria have “compounded the humanitarian consequences of the conflicts in both countries”, the aid agency said.

ICRC director of operations Dominik Stillhart said: “Under international humanitarian law, every party to these conflicts must refrain from harming civilians, must protect medical personnel and facilities, and must allow humanitarian workers to bring help.”

The appeal came as US-led air strikes on Islamic State (IS) militants destroyed four tanks and damaged another during a fourth night of bombardments in Syria.

The Pentagon yesterday said it also carried out seven strikes on IS positions in Iraq, including one on the outskirts of the capital, Baghdad.

The IS was meanwhile advancing on the Syrian border town of Kobane, pushing back Kurdish fighters, according to reports yesterday.

The latest developments follow an announcement by the FBI claiming to have identified “Jihadi John”, the masked British militant in videos depicting the beheading of two US journalists and a Scottish aid worker.

However, James Comey would not reveal the man’s name or nationality or whether the US believed he carried out the killings himself.

British officials would not say if the identity had been shared with the authorities in London, and would not be drawn on whether any arrests were ­imminent.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “We won’t be commenting on matters of security at this stage.”

Yesterday, US-led coalition warplanes bombed oil installations and other facilities in territory controlled by IS militants in eastern Syria, taking aim for a second consecutive day at a key source of financing that has swelled the extremist group’s coffers. The strikes hit two oil areas in Deir el-Zour province a day after the US and its Arab ­allies pummelled a dozen makeshift oil-producing facilities in the same area, near Syria’s border with Iraq. The raids aim to cripple one of the militants’ primary sources of cash – black market oil sales that the US said generates up to $2 million (£1.2m) a day.

The Britain-based Syrian ­Observatory for Human Rights said the strikes yesterday hit the Tink oilfield, as well as the Qouriyeh oil-producing area in Deir el-Zour. It said air raids also targeted the headquarters of the IS group in the town of Mayadeen.

Another activist collective, the Local Co-ordination Committees, reported four strikes on Mayadeen which it said were conducted by the US and its allies.

The Observatory, which relies on a network of activists inside Syria, said there were reports of casualties in the air strikes, but it did not have concrete figures.

The group reported another apparent coalition air raid on IS positions outside the city of Hassakeh in north-east Syria near the Iraqi border. Those strikes targeted an oil-production area, as well as vehicles the militants had brought in from Iraq and tried to bury in the ground to protect them, according to ­Observatory director Rami ­Abdulrahman. The US-led coalition, which began its aerial campaign against IS fighters in Syria early on Tuesday, aims to roll back and ultimately crush the extremist group that has created a proto-state spanning the Syria-Iraq border.

The militants have massacred captured Syrian and Iraqi troops, and terrorised minorities in both countries. The air assault has taken aim at IS checkpoints, training grounds, oilfields, vehicles and bases, as well as buildings used as headquarters and offices.

Activists said the militants have cut back the number of gunmen manning checkpoints, apparently fearing more strikes. There has also been an exodus of civilians from IS strongholds.

“Everywhere where there are buildings, the people living around these buildings are leaving. They are moving far from Isis buildings, either to other villages or areas in the same cities,” said Mr Abdulrahman, using an alternative name for the IS group. “This has happened in Raqqa, in Deir el-Zour and in many towns and villages.”