US-led coalition denies reports it killed dozens in Syria
BEIRUT (AP) — The U.S.-led coalition denied reports that airstrikes it carried out in a part of eastern Syria held by the Islamic State group killed dozens of civilians, while opposition activists reported clashes Sunday between government forces and IS in nearby districts.
The coalition said late Saturday that it struck only “legitimate” militant targets, and that another 10 airstrikes in the area were not carried out by U.S.-led forces.
IS controls an area in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border where some 15,000 people, including fighters and their families, live. U.S.-backed fighters of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been trying to capture the area since September.
Syrian government forces and Iran-backed militiamen have also bombarded the IS-held area in recent weeks, according to opposition activists.
Syrian state media, a war monitor and an IS-linked news agency reported Saturday that coalition airstrikes killed 40 people, mostly women and children.
The coalition said in a statement late Saturday that it conducted 19 strikes in the area starting late Friday in support of ground operations against IS. It said no civilians were present near the targets it struck.
Syria and Russia regularly launch airstrikes against suspected militants, and Iraq has carried out cross-border strikes targeting IS.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Deir Ezzor 24, an activist collective, meanwhile reported clashes Sunday between Syrian government forces and IS in other parts of Deir el-Zour. It said government forces shelled areas controlled by IS in the same region where the U.S.-led coalition reportedly carried out the airstrikes.
Although IS has been mostly defeated in eastern Syria, the extremists still have hideouts in the desert from where they launch attacks.