LONDON: An air strike believed to have been carried out by Russia has killed at least 19 civilians living under Isil rule in a town near Syria's border with Iraq, a monitoring group said yesterday (Friday).
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that attacks on the town of Albu Kamel on Thursday morning killed no fighters from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an assessment that contradicts Moscow's claim to be using precise, guided munitions.
A local lawyer said the bombs hit a school and a garden dedicated to those who have died in Syria's bitter civil war. Photographs published by a local news outlet, Deir Ezzor 24, appeared to show two child victims.
"This appears to have been a deliberate attack on civilians or at best a grossly disproportionate attack on an unspecified target," said Neil Sammonds, Syria researcher for Amnesty International.
"Civilians here, as much as anywhere in Syria, are the victims, with scores dying monthly whether in air strikes, crossfire, due to starvation or lack of adequate medical care."
Albu Kamel in Deir Ezzor province fell to Isil in June last year, allowing the extremist group to seize both sides of the border crossing with Iraq. Most of the province is under Isil control, although the regime of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, has held on to a single airbase, surrounded by the jihadist positions. Russia has said that it needs to fight Isil before deciding on Mr Assad's fate. But US officials say that 85 to 90 per cent of Russian air strikes have hit armed groups other than Isil that are opposing the regime.
Doctors, rescue teams and international observers have documented at least seven Russian attacks on hospitals, clinics and other health facilities since Moscow's jets joined Syria's crowded skies on Sept 30.
On Tuesday, those warplanes turned their attention to Isil's Raqqa stronghold, killing 27 civilians and 15 militants in attacks that appeared to hit a hospital and a bridge.
Footage published by Isil appeared to show the aftermath of Tuesday's air strikes. In one clip, a doctor is seen standing at the edge of a crater, surrounded by shattered bricks and glass from his hospital.
Rebel forces pushed back against a regime offensive in the central province of Hama yesterday, recapturing much of the territory that had fallen to government troops with the help of Russian jets and Iranian-recruited ground troops.
Offensives by the Syrian army and its allies are progressing more slowly than expected due to increased Saudi support to rebels, senior sources close to the Syrian government told Reuters on Friday. By one calculation, the rebels' use of American-made TOW anti-tank missiles has increased eightfold since Russia's intervention, stiffening defence capabilities and inflicting heavier losses on the regime.