Middle East

US-led strikes kill 56 civilians in Syria: activists

An ISIS flag is seen on a road in the jihadist's group bastion of Manbij, in northern Syria, as US-backed Kurdish and Arab fighters advance into the city on June 23, 2016. / AFP / DELIL SOULEIMAN

BEIRUT: Children were among at least 56 civilians killed in strikes by a U.S.-led coalition early Tuesday near a Syrian village held by ISIS, activists said.

"There are at least 56 dead, including 11 children, and dozens more wounded, including some in critical condition," said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Activists said that the civilians were hit as they were fleeing fighting in the Aleppo province village of Al-Tukhar and that they had apparently been mistaken for ISIS fighters.

The Observatory -- which relies on a network of sources inside Syria for its information -- says it determines what planes carried out raids according to their type, location, flight patterns and the munitions involved.

Asked about the incident, the coalition had no immediate comment, but said it was looking into the reports.

Al-Tukhar lies 14 kilometers (nine miles) north of the town of Manbij, a key ISIS stronghold that has been repeatedly targeted in raids by the U.S.-led coalition.

On Monday, the Observatory said 21 civilians had been killed in coalition raids in the area, 15 in a northern district of Manbij and another six in Al-Tukhar.

Manbij sits on ISIS' main supply route between Syria and neighboring Turkey and has been the target of a U.S.-backed offensive by a Kurdish-Arab alliance of fighters since May 31.

In June, the Syrian Democratic Forces alliance broke into western districts of the town, but their advance has been slowed in the past month because of landmines planted by the extremists and ongoing suicide attacks.

Near Aleppo, government forces sought to tighten their siege of rebel-held districts of the battleground second city.

Clashes erupted around Handarat, a largely deserted Palestinian refugee camp north of the city, after government forces seized parts of the only remaining supply route into rebel-held eastern districts, effectively severing them from the outside world.

The capture of the Castello Road has raised fears of a lengthy siege of east Aleppo, where residents have already reported food shortages and rising prices.

The Observatory said fierce clashes were underway around Handarat Camp, which is less than two kilometers (barely a mile) from the northern outskirts of the city.

"If the regime takes Handarat, it will be able to completely asphyxiate the rebels in east Aleppo, and they will be unable to launch counter-attacks to retake the Castello Road," Abdel Rahman told AFP.

Analysts have warned that the government advances around Aleppo could be "devastating" for the rebels.

And the United Nations has raised concern about the fate of the more then 200,000 people still living in rebel-held districts.

It said relief supplies had already been stockpiled in the city, but "further life-saving aid is needed urgently."





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