Syrian government airstrikes kill scores in ISIS-held Raqqa

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A man walks amidst smoke and fire following a reported airstrike by Syrian government forces against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group in the Syrian city of Raqqa, on November 25, 2014. AFP

Published Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A string of Syrian government airstrikes on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group's self-proclaimed capital Raqqa on Tuesday killed an estimated 95 people, many of them civilians, a monitor said.

The airstrikes were the deadliest by President Bashar al-Assad's air force against Raqqa since the ISIS seized control of the city last year.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 52 of the dead were civilians, but it had no word Wednesday on whether the others were jihadists or also civilians.

Rami Abdel Rahman, the director of the pro-opposition monitoring group, had previously said that "most of the casualties were caused by two consecutive airstrikes" on Raqqa's main industrial zone.

"The first strike came, residents rushed to rescue the wounded, and then the second raid took place," Abdel Rahman told AFP.

Abdel Rahman said 10 war planes struck at least 10 times in Raqqa.

"The majority of the strikes were in the eastern part of the city," Abdel Rahman said.

Amateur video footage distributed by activists in Raqqa showed several bloodied bodies laid out on a street near an apparent bombing site, as an ambulance rushed to the scene.

Aid workers in red overalls bearing the Red Crescent symbol could be seen placing the corpses into white body bags.

Activists from the city meanwhile denounced the raids as a "massacre."

An ISIS fighter in the province confirmed that the government carried out the airstrikes, which he said killed at least 70 people.

Syrian government officials were not immediately available for comment.

ISIS emerged in Syria's war in the spring of 2013. It took over Raqqa, the only provincial capital to fall from government control since the outbreak of a 2011 revolt, and turned it into its bastion.

ISIS drove the last Syrian government forces out of Raqqa province in late August. Its fighters seized an air base then, capturing and later executing scores of Syrian soldiers.

Most of the city's civil society activists, as well as opposition fighters who expelled Assad's troops, have either been killed, kidnapped or forced to flee for other parts of Syria or neighboring Turkey.

For many months, the Syrian government only rarely targeted Raqqa city, apparently reserving most of its firepower for areas under rebel control.

But late this summer, the government intensified its airstrikes against ISIS positions in northern and eastern Syria.

On September 6, 53 people were killed in air raids on Raqqa, among them at least 31 civilians, according to the Observatory.

Analysts say the increase could be because the Syrian military wants to weaken rebel groups before they get training and equipment promised by the United States.

The US-led military coalition that has been carrying out airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria has also targeted the jihadist group in Raqqa.

However, the coalition airstrikes have done little to stave off ISIS advances in either country.

A US official said the coalition did not carry out any airstrikes on Raqqa in the last 24 hours.

Activists say Raqqa's residents fear the government's strikes far more than those of the coalition because most of the casualties from the regime's attacks have been civilians.

There are now an estimated 7.6 million people displaced inside Syria and 3.2 million others have fled the country, mostly to bordering nations.

Some 12.2 million Syrians are in need of aid, up from 10.8 in July.

The UN Security Council will move to allow cross-border deliveries of relief supplies to Syria for another year, the president of the council said, as new figures showed more Syrians were in need of aid.

The Council in July agreed in a resolution to allow truckloads of much-needed aid to cross into rebel-held Syrian territory without the consent of Damascus.

Australian Ambassador Gary Quinlan, whose country chairs the 15-member council this month, said his country along with Luxembourg and Jordan would move quickly to seek a 12-month extension of the aid deliveries.

Strategically located on the river Euphrates near the border with Turkey, Raqqa had a pre-war population of about 220,000 but it is now home to 300,000-350,000 people, including many displaced by the conflict, according to the Observatory.

Since the jihadists first started moving into the city, they have been gradually imposing a brutal yet highly-organized system with all the trappings of a state, experts say.

Elsewhere in Syria, ISIS members stoned to death two men in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor on Tuesday after claiming they were gay, the Observatory said.

And in the central province of Homs the jihadists beheaded a member of the minority Ismaili community, accusing him of "apostasy," said the monitoring group.

(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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