San Francisco Chronicle

Activists say air strikes kill 18 in militant-held city


BEIRUT — Air strikes in Syria targeting the Islamic State group’s de facto capital of Raqqa killed at least 18 civilians, including two children, activists said Wednesday.

The strikes, which the activists blamed on Russian and Syrian warplanes, came after an advance toward the city by government forces stalled, with the extremists taking back large areas in the surroundin­g province.

Syrian President Bashar Assad meanwhile designated a new prime minister to form a government following April’s parliament­ary elections. The vote, held only in government­controlled areas, was dismissed by the opposition and much of the internatio­nal community.

Also on Wednesday, activists reported the release of a prominent Assyrian politician detained by the government for more than two years.

The Assyrian Human Rights Network said on its Facebook page that Gabriel Moshe Kourieh had been detained since December 2013. He was based in Qamishli, in eastern Syria, and had been a vocal supporter of the revolt against Assad.

The strikes on Raqqa took place on Tuesday evening. Activists from the group known as Raqqa Is Being Slaughtere­d Silently, which relies on residents to smuggle news out of Islamic State-held territory, said the air raids killed 18 people and wounded 28.

The Syrian Observator­y for Human Rights in Great Britain put the toll at 25 civilians, including six children. Different casualty tolls are common in reporting on Syria’s civil war, now in its sixth year.

Both activist groups blamed the Russian and Syrian air forces for the raids, saying Damascus and its ally Moscow were pummeling Islamic State out of frustratio­n at government losses earlier this week.

The U.S.-led coalition has also been bombing Raqqa, which is the de facto capital of the Islamic State group’s selfstyled caliphate.

The Islamic State group retook large swaths of Raqqa province from government forces on Tuesday, just two days after Syrian troops managed briefly to seize Thawra, an Islamic State-held oil field, and threatened to retake the Tabqa air base from the militants.

The government’s highly publicized campaign to retake Raqqa began on June 2. On Sunday, Syrian government forces advanced to within 6 miles of the Tabqa base. The base, 28 miles from Raqqa, holds strategic and symbolic value in the government campaign.

 ?? Vadim Savitsky / Associated Press ?? Russian fighter jets and bombers are parked at Syria’s Hemeimeem air base near the port city of Latakia.
Vadim Savitsky / Associated Press Russian fighter jets and bombers are parked at Syria’s Hemeimeem air base near the port city of Latakia.

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