Dozens of people were killed earlier this week in a suspected US-led coalition air raid that hit a school sheltering displaced people near Raqqa, adding more victims to the growing list of the coalition’s crimes, which they greatly deny.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance, which is dominated by the Kurdish YPG militia, is supported by the US as the latter uses them in its war against ISIS.
Air strikes carried out by the US-led coalition and a long fight by the SDF forces ended in recapturing Manbij from the control of the Islamic State (ISIS) group last year.
The SDF, backed by US coalition, launched also a campaign with the ultimate aim of capturing Raqqa in November and succeeded in encircling the city. Recently, they launched an assault on Deir Ezzor province to cut the road to Raqqa and surrounding ISIS effectively and were able to achieve this goal after fierce clashes.
Kurdish officials said the final military operations against ISIS in Raqqa, where more than 200.000 civilians still live, will start in early April.
The US-coalition has killed hundreds of civilians in its airstrikes against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, though it only acknowledged a small number of the deaths. The Raqqa civilians are now in a grave danger as the battle became certain.
33 civilians killed near Raqqa
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday that its contacts had counted at least 33 bodies at the site near the village of al-Mansoura, west of Raqqa.
The group said it believed the air raid at the school-turned-shelter had been carried out by the US-led coalition fighting ISIS.
The air raid early on Tuesday morning was also reported by the activist-run Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently group, which said dozens of civilians were dead or still missing after the air raid.
A journalist said the school in al-Mansoura housed many refugees who had fled the fighting in Raqqa.
“This is an area where the US-led coalition has been launching air strikes to break the defense lines of ISIS in Raqqa,” he said.
“Some say that more than 30 people were killed in the strikes, others suggest that this number could be even higher.”
However, Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon said the United States had been active in the area and “was examining” whether it was responsible for the strike. But separately, Col. Joseph Scrocca, a spokesman for the U.S.-led anti-Islamic State coalition, said he had received “no indication” that the bombing raid had killed civilians. “Coalition forces work diligently to be precise in our airstrikes,” he said.
— الرقة تذبح بصمت (@Raqqa_SL) March 22, 2017
Warning for the Raqqa civilians
The US-coalition airstrikes in Raqqa have always left civilian casualties, but the toll is expected to rise in the densely-populated city of Raqqa.
In the last incident, at least 22 civilians were killed and scores injured in US-led coalition airstrikes on the Islamic State group’s Syrian stronghold of Raqqa, local sources and a monitor said last week.
“International coalition warplanes hit a school complex overnight in the village of Kassrat, south of Raqqa, housing displaced people from Aleppo province, killing 17 civilians, mostly women and children,” local activist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently said.
The group added that another 15 people were injured in the airstrike.
In addition, the US-led coalition warned residents of the Syrian city of Raqqa to avoid boats and ferries regularly used by the militants to escape airstrikes.
The leaflets, which are approximately the size of a US dollar bill, say in Arabic “ISIS is using boats and ferries to transport weapons and fighters. Do not use ferries or boats, air strikes are coming.”
“As our partner forces prepare to liberate Raqqah, the Coalition routinely drops leaflets as an effective means of communicating messages to civilians who are trapped in the city and subject to the barbaric rule of ISIS ,” a coalition spokesperson said.
The spokesperson added the primary reason for the leaflets is to mitigate civilian casualties as much as possible during the operation to retake the city from ISIS.
On March 16, the activist group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently reported that the coalition was warning civilians in leaflets to leave their homes after 9 p.m. because coalition forces planned to bomb the city.
The reports came as Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported Daesh militants were building fortifications around the city.
Similar incident in Aleppo
More than 40 civilians were killed by US-coalition airstrikes on a mosque in Syria’s Aleppo province on March 17, while the US administration said they were targeting terrorists.
Dozens of people have been killed after fighter jets struck a packed mosque during prayer time in a rebel-held village in northern Syria, according to a monitoring group and activists.
The Observatory said the air raids in al-Jina, southwest of Atarib, in the western countryside of Aleppo, killed at least 42 people and wounded dozens.
The village is located in one of the main rebel-held parts of Syria, the northwest that includes Idlib province and the western parts of Aleppo province, and its population has been swollen by refugees, according to United Nations agencies.
The jets reportedly struck at the time of evening prayer so the mosque was full of worshippers, with local activists saying up to 300 people were inside at the time of the air raids.
Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Observatory, which monitors the war via a network of contacts across Syria, said that most of those killed were civilians.
“More than 100 people were wounded,” Abdel Rahman said.
A suspected U.S missile strike hit a mosque full of 300 people tonight in Al-Jinah, west #Aleppo.
— Charles Lister (@Charles_Lister) March 16, 2017
The US has said it carried out an airstrike in Syria against an al-Qaida meeting but denied deliberately targeting the mosque.
“We did not target a mosque, but the building that we did target – which was where the meeting took place – is about 50ft (15 meters) from a mosque that is still standing,” said Col John J Thomas, spokesman for US Central Command.
Later, the Pentagon insisted those strikes had killed dozens of terrorists. “Intelligence indicated that al-Qaeda leaders used this partially-constructed community meeting hall as a gathering place, and as a place to educate and indoctrinate al-Qaeda fighters,”
Hundreds of others killed by coalition
The US-led coalition fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq said earlier this month that its raids had unintentionally killed at least 220 civilians since 2014 in both countries.
Critics say the real number is much higher.
Amnesty International said in October 2016 that the US-led coalition has killed at least 300 civilians in Syria.
“In its backing of anti-Isis ground forces during this summer’s Manbij campaign, the US-led coalition killed some 250 or more civilians, and yet it does not acknowledge them,” said Neil Sammonds, Amnesty’s researcher for Syria.
It is a conservative toll compared with estimates from other monitoring groups, which put the number of deaths from coalition bombing at 600 to 1,000. The monitoring groups include the Syrian Network for Human Rights, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Violations Documentation Centre.
However, the US administration stick to their story and numbers.
US Central Command, which leaders Operation Inherent Resolve, confirmed 21 civilian deaths in nine new incidents in its latest round of investigations.
“We regret the unintentional loss of civilian lives resulting from coalition efforts to defeat Isis in Iraq and Syria and express our deepest sympathies to the families and others affected by these strikes,” a spokesperson said.
The deadliest single strike was in Mosul on 13 January, where investigators found eight civilians were “unintentionally killed” in an operation targeting Isis fighters in a house.
Anyway, the US administration say that they tke every measure to assure their forces don’t kill civilians by mistake.
“Although the Coalition takes extraordinary efforts to strike military targets in a manner that minimises the risk of civilian casualties, in some incidents casualties are unavoidable,” a spokesperson for said.
“In each of the incidents, the investigation assessed that although all feasible precautions were taken and the decision to strike complied with the Law of Armed Conflict, unintended civilian casualties unfortunately occurred.”
The US administration admitted it was unable to “fully investigate all reports of possible civilian casualties using traditional investigative methods, such as interviewing witnesses and examining the site”, saying it instead interviews pilots, reviews strike footage and analysed information from partner forces, governments, humanitarian groups, traditional and social media.