Death toll climbs from airstrikes on ISIL-held Raqqa

Death toll climbs from airstrikes on ISIL-held Raqqa

BEIRUT – The Associated Press
Death toll climbs from airstrikes on ISIL-held Raqqa

AP photo

The death toll from purported Russian airstrikes on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)-held city of Raqqa has climbed to at least 55, mostly civilians, Syrian opposition activists and ISIL said on March 20.

The extremist group has controlled the city in northern Syrian since 2014 and considers it the capital of its self-styled caliphate. It has recently become the focus of more intensified airstrikes. A Kurdish-led force supported by the U.S. and Russia has said that it is planning to liberate the city in the next months.

The alliance, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, has had success fighting against ISIL in northern Syria, and expelled its militants from their stronghold in Hassakeh - the town of Shaddadeh - last month.

Intensified airstrikes on Raqqa were ongoing March 20. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which documents the conflict through activists on the ground, said 55 people have been killed, including 13 children and a pregnant woman, in what it said were Russian airstrikes that hit residential areas over the past 24 hours.

The anti-ISIL activist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently also said the airstrikes were by Russian warplanes and put the number of deaths at 60.

The ISIL-affiliated news agency Aamaq said 43 were killed and 60 wounded. It released a video that purports to show the “massacre committed by Russian aircraft in one of Raqqa’s most congested streets.” The video shows what appears to be dead babies as well as bombed out buildings, burning cars and other wreckage.

Russia has been conducting air raids in Syria since Sept. 30, 2015. Moscow began drawing down its military presence in Syria over the past week after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial pullout of Russian aircraft and forces in support of indirect peace talks in Geneva, which is entering its second week as of March 21.