Coalition strike ‘kills 20 civilians’ near ISIL-held Raqqa
AFP photoU.S.-backed forces pressed offensives Nov. 9 on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s (ISIL) strongholds in Syria and Iraq, as an air strike by the American-led coalition reportedly killed 20 civilians near the Syrian city of Raqqa.
As a U.S.-backed Kurdish-Arab militia alliance has been advancing on the jihadists’ de facto Syrian capital Raqqa, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a coalition strike overnight had hit the ISIL-held village of Al-Heisha, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Raqqa.
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 ISIL news,” SDF spokeswoman Jihan Sheikh Ahmed told AFP.
Colonel John Dorrian, a spokesman for the coalition, told AFP 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 U.S.-led air strikes in Syria began in September 2014 to 680, including 169 children.
Some 200 families had fled Al-Heisha, according to an SDF official.
“Daesh [ISIL] 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.
“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 Raqqa on Nov. 6, upping pressure on the jihadists three weeks after Iraqi forces began their assault on Mosul.
Raqqa and Mosul are the last major cities in Syria and Iraq under ISIL control, after the jihadists suffered losses that greatly reduced the size of the self-styled “caliphate” they declared in mid-2014 following their seizure of large parts of both countries.
The U.S.-led coalition, which launched its air campaign against ISIL two years ago, hopes that driving the group from the two cities will deal it a knockout blow.
The SDF has been pushing south from areas near the Turkish border towards Raqqa, seizing a string of villages and moving to positions about 35 kilometers (22 miles) from the city.
An AFP correspondent east of Ain Issa, the main staging point for the offensive, said coalition aircraft could be seen on Nov. 9 carrying out repeated air strikes in the distance and that ISIL fighters were shelling SDF positions.