US-led strikes kill at least 56 civilians in Syria

Sunday 17/07/2016
Coalition has no immediate comment

BEIRUT - Children were among at least 56 civilians killed in strikes by a US-led coalition early on Tuesday near a Syrian village held by the Islamic State group, a monitor said.

"There are at least 56 dead, including 11 children, and dozens more wounded, including some in critical condition," said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The monitor said that the civilians were hit as they were fleeing fighting in the Aleppo province village of Al-Tukhar and that they had apparently been mistaken for ISIS fighters.

The Observatory -- which relies on a network of sources inside Syria for its information -- says it determines what planes carried out raids according to their type, location, flight patterns and the munitions involved.

Asked about the incident, the coalition had no immediate comment, but said it was looking into the reports.

Al-Tukhar lies 14 kilometres (nine miles) north of the town of Manbij, a key ISIS stronghold that has been repeatedly targeted in raids by the US-led coalition.

On Monday, the Observatory said 21 civilians had been killed in coalition raids in the area, 15 in a northern district of Manbij and another six in Al-Tukhar.

Manbij sits on ISIS's main supply route between Syria and neighbouring Turkey and has been the target of a US-backed offensive by a Kurdish-Arab alliance of fighters since May 31.

In June, the Syrian Democratic Forces alliance broke into western districts of the town, but their advance has been slowed in the past month because of landmines planted by the jihadists and ongoing suicide attacks.

Near Aleppo, government forces sought to tighten their siege of rebel-held districts of the battleground second city.

Clashes erupted around Handarat, a largely deserted Palestinian refugee camp north of the city, after government forces seized parts of the only remaining supply route into rebel-held eastern districts, effectively severing them from the outside world.

The capture of the Castello Road has raised fears of a lengthy siege of east Aleppo, where residents have already reported food shortages and rising prices.

The Observatory said fierce clashes were underway around Handarat Camp, which is less than two kilometres (barely a mile) from the northern outskirts of the city.

"If the regime takes Handarat, it will be able to completely asphyxiate the rebels in east Aleppo, and they will be unable to launch counter-attacks to retake the Castello Road," Abdel Rahman said.

Analysts have warned that the government advances around Aleppo could be "devastating" for the rebels.

And the United Nations has raised concern about the fate of the more then 200,000 people still living in rebel-held districts.

It said relief supplies had already been stockpiled in the city, but "further life-saving aid is needed urgently."