Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that parties to the conflict, including the Assad regime-Russian alliance and the militias of the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), that are surrounding Hawijat Katea island near Deir Ezzor should provide safe passage to civilians tapped inside and allow them to safely flee the fighting.
Hundreds of civilians of civilians are currently stranded in the last remaining pocket under ISIS control in the city of Deir Ezzor, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday. Some of those now trapped in the island came from the city of Deir Ezzor shortly before it fell at the hands of Assad regime forces, militias of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and Hezbollah militia.
Hawijat Katea, an island in the Euphrates River, is located to the east of Deir Ezzor city. Civilians are now stuck between Assad regime forces who control the southern banks of the Euphrates and the SDF militias who controls areas north of the river.
“All parties to the conflict should ensure that the protection of civilians remains central to the fight against ISIS,” said Nadim Houry, terrorism and counterterrorism director at Human Rights Watch. “Safe passage out for these stranded civilians should be a priority.”
“Those fleeing ISIS should not have to fear their future at the hands of the Syrian government or the SDF,” Houry said. “It is essential to respect due process and avoid any collective punishment for those who lived under ISIS.”
Regime forces have been shelling the area with heavy artillery for several days. Activists who spoke with civilians trapped inside reported civilian deaths among those trapped in the island as a result of the shelling.
In early November, Syrian human rights and media organizations issued a call for assistance to the civilians in Hawijat Katea under the title ‘the last 100 meters’ in reference to the distance separating those who are trapped from the SDF-controlled areas.
Civilians trapped inside the islands refuse to surrender themselves to the advancing regime forces for fear they will be executed, especially as regime forces carried out summary executions against civilians near the town of Mayadin in rural Deir Ezzor before they stormed the town a few weeks ago. (Source: Syrian Coalition’s Media Department)