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U.S. Airstrike in Syria Is Said to Kill Dozens of Civilians
At least 30 Syrian civilians were killed in an airstrike by the United States-led coalition fighting Islamic State militants in a rural area of Raqqa Province early Tuesday, according to residents, activists and state television.
The coalition said it had no indications that an airstrike hit civilians, but in its daily report on coalition strikes, the United States military acknowledged that strikes were carried out in the area. It said that coalition warplanes carried out 19 airstrikes on Tuesday – an unusually high number for a single day – on a range of Islamic State facilities near the city of Raqqa.
The attack, which hit a school in the town of Mansoura, where civilians had taken shelter on Tuesday night, was the second time in a week that Syrians had accused the United States of involvement in a strike that killed dozens of noncombatants.
Forty-nine people died last week when American warplanes fired on a target in Al Jinah, a village in western Aleppo Province. United States officials said the attack had hit a building where Qaeda operatives were meeting, but residents said the warplanes had struck a mosque where hundreds of people had gathered for a weekly religious meeting.
The United States military said it was investigating whether civilians had been killed in that airstrike.
In Raqqa, the Islamic State's self-declared capital, hundreds of people who fled their homes in other parts of Syria were sheltering in the school, according to residents and to the group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, a team of activists originally from Raqqa who monitor the conflict.
The two airstrikes have raised concerns about whether the United States military has become less careful, or less selective, in its targeting. President Trump repeatedly said during his campaign that he would loosen restrictions intended to protect civilians during attacks against the Islamic State and other extremist groups.
The attack came as American forces took a new step in their campaign against the Islamic State, also known by the acronyms ISIS or ISIL. On Wednesday, United States Special Forces troops and members of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the name used by the Kurdish and Arab forces working with the United States military in northeastern Syria, were dropped into territory held by the Islamic State near the Tabqa Dam on the Euphrates River, as more Kurdish forces crossed the river to reinforce them. The school in Mansoura was not far from that area.
Airstrikes during the Obama administration also led to high civilian death tolls, most notably in an operation last year in Manbij, a town in northern Syria near the Turkish border that was being held by Islamic State militants.
Khaled al-Homsi, an activist from Palmyra who opposes both the Syrian government and the Islamic State, said that among the displaced people at the school were families from Palmyra, which has changed hands several times in recent years, switching between pro-government and Islamic State forces.
Residents of Palmyra, an ancient city known for its Roman stone amphitheater, say they have endured bombing by government warplanes, harsh treatment and summary killings by the Islamic State, and reprisals and looting by pro-government forces retaking the area.
[Source: By Anne Barnard, The New York Times, Beirut, 22Mar17]
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