BEIRUT: An air strike hit people trying to flee the last area controlled by Daesh in eastern Syria Friday, killing at least 20 including children, opposition activists and the country’s state media reported.
The air strike on the Daesh-held village of Baghouz comes as the offensive against the extremists by US-backed fighters of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces has intensified over the past weeks. It also comes as the US has announced that the process of American troop withdrawal from Syria has begun.
Thousands of civilians have fled over the past months from the area near the Iraqi border as Daesh has been steadily losing ground.
State news agency SANA said 20 people were killed in the air strike on Baghouz, while the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 23 people were killed including 10 Daesh members.
They both blamed the US-led coalition that has been providing air cover to the SDF in their months-long offensive to capture the area from the extremists.
“Most of those killed were Syrians displaced from nearby areas,” said Europe-based activist Omar Abu Layla of the DeirEzzor 24 monitoring group. He added that the dead included three families who were trying to flee the Daesh-held area to districts controlled by SDF.
Meanwhile in Turkey, President Tayyip Erdogan met with US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham to discuss the situation in Syria as the United States prepares to withdraw troops.
Graham, a prominent voice on foreign affairs in the US, met with Erdogan and other Turkish officials Friday for talks that were also expected to include a proposal for the creation of a “safe zone” in northeast Syria.
The visit comes days after a suicide bombing, claimed by Daesh, killed two US service members and two American civilians in the northeastern town of Manbij.
Graham has said he is concerned that US President Donald Trump’s troop withdrawal announcement had emboldened Daesh militants and created dangerous uncertainty for American allies.
The Pentagon identified three of the four Americans killed in the suicide bomb attack in Manbij — Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jonathan R. Farmer, 37, of Boynton Beach, Florida, who was based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky” Navy Chief Cryptologic Technician (Interpretive) Shannon M. Kent, 35, from upstate New York and based at Fort Meade, Maryland” and a civilian, Scott A. Wirtz, from St. Louis.
The Pentagon hasn’t identified the fourth casualty, a civilian contractor.
In northwestern Syria, an explosion outside an office belonging to an Al Qaida-linked group killed at least 11 people and wounded several others, opposition activists said.
The blast comes a week after members of the Al Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir Al Sham, Arabic for Levant Liberation Committee, or HTS, took over control of wide parts of Idlib province and the surrounding countryside after forcing rival insurgents to accept a deal for a civil administration run by HTS in their areas.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Smart news agency, an activist collective, said the blast occurred on the southern edge of the rebel-held city of Idlib.
The Observatory said 11 people were killed in the blast, including seven HTS members. Smart said 12 people were killed, many of them militants.