Coalition strike ‘kills 20 civilians’
US-backed forces pressed offensives yesterday on the Islamic State group’s strongholds in Syria and Iraq, as an air strike by the American-led coalition reportedly killed 20 civilians near the Syrian city of Raqa. Supported by coalition air raids, Iraqi forces have pushed into IS’s Mosul stronghold and a Kurdish-Arab militia alliance has been advancing on the jihadists’ de facto Syrian capital Raqa. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a coalition strike overnight had hit the ISheld village of Al-Heisha, about 40 kilometers north of Raqa. Rami Abdul Rahman, the head of the Britain-based monitoring group, said nine women and two children were among the 20 civilians killed and that 32 others had been wounded.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the militia alliance which Washington is supporting in the assault, denied the civilian deaths. “There is no such thing, and any such claims are IS news,” SDF spokeswoman Jihan Sheikh Ahmed said. Colonel John Dorrian, a spokesman for the coalition said it appeared there had been strikes in the area. “After an initial assessment... the coalition confirms it did conduct strikes in the area described in the allegation,” he said.”However, more specific information is needed to conclusively determine responsibility” for civilian casualties. The Observatory said the latest deaths brought the number of civilians killed since US-led air strikes in Syria began in September 2014 to 680, including 169 children.
‘We left everything behind’
Some 200 families had fled Al-Heisha, according to an SDF official. “Daesh fighters brought heavy weapons to our village and stayed among us so that if there were strikes they would hit us,” 45-year-old Saada Al-Aboud said after fleeing the town, using an Arabic acronym for IS. “They wouldn’t let us leave. We had to escape by running out into the fields, with our children and old people. What else could we do? We left everything behind.”The SDF launched the drive towards Raqa on Saturday, upping pressure on the jihadists three weeks after Iraqi forces began their assault on Mosul. — AFP