US-led coalition strikes kill 9 civilians in east Syria

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BEIRUT: Air strikes by a US-led coalition battling the Daesh group in east Syria killed nine civilians on Friday, a monitor said.

The Kurdish-Arab Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), backed by coalition airpower, has been fighting to oust Daesh from the pocket in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor since September.

“Air raids and artillery fire by the international coalition and the SDF are going on against neighborhoods of the town of Hajjin,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The air strikes “killed nine civilians, including six children, and two IS jihadists,” the Britain-based monitor said.

The coalition did not immediately comment on the alleged fatalities but has repeatedly said it does its utmost to avoid civilian casualties.

The SDF broke into the key Daesh holdout of Hajjin on Thursday after months of fighting that has seen the militants launch vicious counter-attacks.

“The Syrian Democratic Forces have advanced into more territory once held by Daesh and thwarted their multiple counter offensives,” US-led coalition spokesman Sean Ryan said Friday.

He said Daesh losses had been “very high” and that intelligence reported jihadists had tried to flee across the border to Iraq but were prevented by Iraqi forces.

In almost three months of battle, more than 820 militants and more than 480 US-backed fighters have been killed, the Observatory says.

More than 300 civilians have been killed in that period, it says, though the coalition insists it does not target non-combatants.

Daesh overran large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014, declaring a “caliphate” across territories it controlled.

But various offensives in both countries have routed the militants from most of that land, crushing their dreams of statehood.

In Syria, the militants retain a presence in the vast Badia desert that stretches to the Iraqi border, as well as the pocket under attack around Hajjin.

Syria’s war has killed 360,000 people and displaced millions since starting in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-regime protests.

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