Russian jets kill over 200 ISIL militants near Syria's Deir al-Zor
MOSCOW/BEIRUTRussia's air force has destroyed a large column of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants on their way to the Syrian city of Deir al-Zor, killing over 200 militants, Russian news agencies cited Russia's Defence Ministry as saying on Aug. 21.
ISIL is concentrating its forces around Deir al-Zor after being pushed out of the south of Raqqa Province and the west of Homs Province by Syrian land forces and the Russian air force, the ministry said.
It said its planes had also destroyed the militants' military equipment. It did not say when the strike took place.
Meanwhile, the U.S.-led coalition strikes on Aug. 20 killed 27 civilians in part of Raqqa city held by ISIL, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.
Seven children were among the dead in the strikes that “hit the densely-populated Al-Badu area in the centre of the city,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said on Aug. 21.
Once a jihadist stronghold, more than half of Raqqa city has fallen to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militants that entered the city in June.
The SDF is heavily backed by the U.S.-led coalition, which has regularly launched air strikes against the jihadists that have reportedly killed scores of civilians.
According to the Britain-based Observatory, at least 125 civilians have been killed in a week of U.S.-led strikes on Raqqa city, including those who died on Aug. 20.
“There are civilians killed each day in coalition strikes... The closer the fighting gets to the densely-populated city centre, the more civilian deaths there are,” Abdel Rahman said.
The coalition, which operates in both Syria and neighbouring Iraq, says it takes all possible measures to avoid civilian casualties.
In August, it acknowledged the deaths of 624 civilians in its strikes in Syria and Iraq since 2014, but rights groups say the number is much higher.
The UN’s humanitarian pointman for Syria, Jan Egeland, has said ISIL-held territory in Raqqa city is now “the worst place” in the war-torn country.
The UN estimates there are up to 25,000 civilians trapped inside the city, with food and fuel supplies short and prohibitively expensive.
Tens of thousands of civilians have also fled the city, risking ISIL sniper fire and landmines in the process.
Elsewhere, Lebanon’s Hezbollah used drones to strike ISIL in Syria close to the border with Lebanon, a military media unit it runs said on Aug. 21, their first public declaration that they had used such a weapon.
Hezbollah deployed the drones to hit ISIL positions, bunkers and fortifications in the Western Qalamoun area near the border with Lebanon, achieving direct hits, the military media unit said.
An official in the military alliance fighting in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told Reuters it was the first time Hezbollah had declared its use of the weapons.
Early on Aug. 19 Hezbollah and the Syrian army began an operation against an ISIL enclave straddling the border with Lebanon in Syria’s Western Qalamoun.
The Lebanese army began a separate but simultaneous operation against the same jihadist pocket from inside Lebanon.
Any joint operation between the Lebanese army on the one hand and the Syrian army on the other would be politically sensitive in Lebanon and could jeopardise the U.S. military aid the country receives.