Many civil­ians dead in anti-IS strike in Syria

Gulf Times - - FRONT PAGE -

An air strike on one of the last hold­outs of the Is­lamic State group in Syria has killed 54 peo­ple, more than half of them civil­ians, a war mon­i­tor said yes­ter­day. The US-led coali­tion fight­ing the mil­i­tants said it or its al­lies may have car­ried out air raids in the area, and it was in­ves­ti­gat­ing the al­leged civil­ian deaths.

An air strike on one of the last hold­outs of the Is­lamic State group in Syria has killed 54 peo­ple, more than half of them civil­ians, a war mon­i­tor said yes­ter­day.

The US-led coali­tion fight­ing the mil­i­tants said it or its al­lies may have car­ried out air raids in the area, and it was in­ves­ti­gat­ing the al­leged civil­ian deaths.

The raid late Thurs­day on an ice fac­tory near the vil­lage of AlSoussa close to the Iraqi bor­der killed 28 civil­ians and 26 IS mil­i­tants, the Bri­tain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said.

It was not im­me­di­ately clear if the raid on the east­ern Deir Ez­zor prov­ince was car­ried out by an Iraqi plane or the coali­tion, ac­cord­ing to the mon­i­tor, which re­lies on a net­work of sources in­side Syria.

In a writ­ten state­ment, the US-led al­liance said: “The coali­tion or our part­ner forces may have con­ducted strikes in the vicin­ity of Al-Soussa and Baghour Fukhani” on Thurs­day.

“We are for­ward­ing the re­port to our Civil­ian Ca­su­alty Cell for fur­ther as­sess­ment on this al­le­ga­tion,” it said.

Iraqi war­planes have re­cently car­ried out strikes against IS in east­ern Syria, while coali­tion air­craft have been sup­port­ing Kur­dish-led fight­ers bat­tling the mil­i­tants.

The IS fight­ers were Syr­i­ans and Iraqis, the Ob­ser­va­tory said.

Syr­ian state news agency SANA re­ported the strike late Thurs­day, say­ing more than 30 civil­ians were killed and ac­cus­ing the coali­tion of car­ry­ing it out.

The for­eign min­istry in Da­m­as­cus de­cried the coali­tion for “only suc­ceed­ing in killing in­no­cent Syr­i­ans and de­stroy­ing Syr­ian in­fras­truc­ture”, in a state­ment car­ried by the out­let.

IS fight­ers swept across Syria and Iraq in 2014, declar­ing a cross-bor­der “caliphate” in ar­eas they con­trolled.

They have since lost most of that ter­ri­tory to var­i­ous of­fen­sives, but still re­tain pock­ets of land in Syria in­clud­ing in the coun­try’s vast Badiya desert and in Deir Ez­zor.

IS fight­ers have faced two sep­a­rate of­fen­sives in Deir Ez­zor on ei­ther side of the Euphrates River that cuts through the prov­ince.

Rus­sia-sup­ported regime forces have pushed back the mil­i­tants on the west­ern side of the Euphrates, while the US-backed Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces have bat­tled them to its east.

Al-Soussa lies to the east of the Euphrates River, in a pocket of ter­ri­tory still held by the mil­i­tants.

IS fight­ers have been ex­pelled from most ur­ban cen­tres in Syria, but an­a­lysts say they have re­tained their abil­ity to pounce from the desert.

Last month, an IS in­cur­sion into the town of Albu Ka­mal on the west of the Euphrates left dozens of pro-regime fight­ers dead.

At­tacks spiked af­ter the mil­i­tants were evac­u­ated from their last bas­tion near Da­m­as­cus in May, many head­ing to the Badiya desert, the Ob­ser­va­tory said.

IS also has a pres­ence in the north­west­ern prov­ince of Idlib, as well as in the south­west­ern prov­ince of Daraa where it has been bat­tling op­po­si­tion fight­ers in re­cent days.

The gov­ern­ment and rebels last week an­nounced a ceasefire agree­ment as the regime moves to re­take con­trol of the whole of the prov­ince, but IS is ex­cluded from that deal.

The mil­i­tants hold a cor­ner of ter­ri­tory in Daraa on the bor­der with Jor­dan and the Is­raeli-oc­cu­pied Golan Heights.

Overnight Wed­nes­dayThurs­day, they seized the nearby vil­lage of Heet from rebels who had agreed to hand over their heavy weapons to the regime af­ter deadly clashes.

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