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BEIRUT: US-led strikes targeting the self-styled Islamic State group killed at least 52 civilians in northern Syria, a monitor said on Saturday, but the Pentagon said it could not confirm the report.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor also reported 10 civilian deaths in a rocket strike on Saturday in the northern city of Aleppo and said 40 others suffered respiratory problems in a pre-dawn chemical attack further north in Idlib province.

Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said that US-led coalition strikes early on Friday on the village of Birmahle in Aleppo province killed 52 civilians.

He said “seven children” were among the dead but that the toll could rise as 13 people were still trapped under rubble.

Kurdish militiamen and Syrian rebel fighters were clashing with IS jihadists in a town roughly two kilometres away from Birmahle at the time of the strikes.

“Not a single IS fighter” was killed in the strikes on Birmahle, said Abdel Rahman, adding that the village is inhabited by civilians only and that IS has no positions there.

US Central Command spokesman Colonel Patrick Ryder said there was “no information to corroborate allegations that coalition air strikes resulted in civilian casualties”.

“Regardless, we take all allegations seriously and will look into them further,” he added.

News of the deaths come as Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited Iraq, days after lawmakers in Ottawa voted to expand their country’s contribution to the US-led coalition against IS.

The Observatory, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria, said a baby had died in Nairab.

Air strikes by the international coalition have supported Kurdish militias fighting IS in Aleppo province, most notably in the flashpoint border town of Kobane, which is near Birmahle.

Backed by the strikes, Kurdish fighters drove jihadists out of Kobane in January.

A statement released on Friday by the coalition’s joint task force said it had conducted six air strikes near Kobane on IS tactical units.

Prior to Friday’s strikes, the coalition’s raids had killed 66 civilians since it began attacking IS positions in Syria in September 2014.

According to the Britain-based Observatory, the air campaign has killed more than 2,000 people in total, including at least 1,922 IS fighters.

In Aleppo, at least 10 civilians, including three children, were killed in rebel rocket attacks Saturday on regime-controlled parts of the divided city.

Dozens were seriously, said Abdel Rahman who expected the death toll to rise.

Syrian state television blamed “terrorists” for the rocket attacks, which it said killed 12 people and wounded 45.

Chlorine attack: The attacks came despite the death Friday night of a rebel commander known for launching rockets and mortar rounds on regime-held parts of Aleppo.

Abdel Rahman said that Khaled Hayyani was killed by pro-regime snipers, and described him as a “dangerous man who was responsible for over 550 deaths, including 130 children, in 2014”.

Also on Saturday, at least 40 civilians, including children, suffered respiratory problems in “chlorine gas attacks” on two rebel-held villages in northwestern Idlib province, the Observatory said.

Published in Dawn, May 3rd, 2015

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