At least 26 Syrian civilians killed in suspected US-led airstrike
At least 26 Syrian civilians have been killed in an airstrike suspected to have been launched by the US-led coalition against the so-called Islamic State, piling pressure on the alliance after allegations another bombing raid left regime soldiers dead.
The coalition has been bombarding the Islamic State group for more than a year in Syria and neighbouring Iraq, where the jihadists have declared a self-styled caliphate.
But according to a monitoring group, strikes on Monday on the village of Al-Khan in north-eastern Syria only left civilians dead.
Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Isis is in control of Al-Khan but is only on its outskirts, “which is why all of the deaths were civilians”.
The death toll included at least seven children and four women, he said, adding that it was likely to rise as more than a dozen civilians were still missing under rubble.
A spokesman for US Central Command said the military was investigating the allegations. “We take all such allegations seriously and conduct credibility assessments of all information we receive regarding civilian casualties. If the information is deemed credible we will investigate and publicly release the results of the investigation,” the spokesman said.
Last month, the US said four civilians were “likely” to have been killed in strikes against Isis in Iraq. And in November 2014, it admitted accidentally killing two children in a strike in Syria.
The Al-Khan strike came with the coalition already under pressure over allegations it carried out a raid the previous day that killed Syrian soldiers, in the first such case.
In a letter to the UN security council and secretary general Ban Ki-moon, Syria accused the coalition of targeting an army camp in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor on Sunday, killing three soldiers and wounding 13.
The foreign ministry letter condemned the attack as “a flagrant aggression”.
The Observatory said four soldiers died in the first incident of US-led strikes killing Syrian troops.
A Syrian military source gave the same toll, and said the attack late Sunday hit several buildings used as weapons depots and an army training camp, damaging two tanks.
But the US denied the claim, saying four alliance airstrikes in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour all hit oil wells about 55km (34 miles) south-east of Ayyash.
“We did not strike any vehicles or personnel targets in this area. We have no indication any Syrian soldiers were even near our strikes,” the coalition statement said, adding that it takes allegations of potential collateral damage seriously and investigates them.
Much of Deir Ezzor is under Isis control, but the regime still has a presence in small areas, including in the provincial capital.
The province’s oil has been a major source of Isis funding, but on Monday analysis firm IHS said the group was having trouble making ends meet due to airstrikes on its oil infrastructure.
IHS estimated Isis’s overall monthly income to be about $80m as of late 2015, around half of it from levies and confiscations.
But it noted the group also had significant costs because it administers large swathes of territory.
The Syrian government has regularly criticised the US-led strikes as ineffective and illegal because they are not coordinated with regime forces.
“The US coalition lacks the seriousness and credibility to effectively combat terrorism,” the foreign ministry said.
Staunch regime ally Moscow began its own aerial campaign in Syria on 30 September and coordinates its strikes with Damascus.
On Sunday, Barack Obama vowed to destroy Isis and hunt down its followers at home and abroad.
It followed a shooting rampage in California last week that saw an apparently radicalised couple kill 14 people.
While pledging to “hunt down terrorist plotters in any country”, Obama also said he would not be “drawn once more into a long and costly ground war in Iraq and Syria”.
“They know they can’t defeat us on the battlefield … but they also know that if we occupy foreign lands, they can maintain insurgencies for years, killing thousands of our troops and draining our resources, and using our presence to draw new recruits,” he said.
Elsewhere, Syrian media said four people were killed in rebel rocket fire near the now-closed Russian consulate in Aleppo city.