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Russian air strikes kill 24 civilians in Syria

December 07, 2017

BEIRUT: Russian air strikes killed 24 civilians on Wednesday in a village held by the militant Islamic State (IS) group near the Euphrates River in eastern Syria, a monitor said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the bombing raids hit the village of Al-Jerzi on the eastern bank of the river, which cuts across Deir Ezzor province.

After reporting earlier on Wednesday that the strikes killed 21 civilians, the Britain-based monitor said the toll had risen.

“More people died and more bodies were found,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said. “Ten children and four women are among the dead in the Russian air strikes targeting residential buildings in Al-Jerzi,” he said.

The monitor relies on a network of sources inside Syria and says it determines whose planes carry out raids according to type, location, flight patterns and munitions used.

It says IS, which used to control swathes of Deir Ezzor province, has been ousted from all but eight per cent of the oil-rich region.

The militants have lost vast swathes of it to separate offensives by Russian-backed Syrian troops and an alliance known as the Syrian Democratic Forces.

The SDF has long been backed by US-led coalition bombing of IS in Iraq and Syria, but its Kurdish component recently said it had also received support from Moscow.

Russian warplanes had given air cover to the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) as they fought against jihadists in Deir Ezzor, according to the YPG and Moscow’s defence ministry.

Russia first launched bombing raids in 2015 in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s beleaguered forces.

Those strikes have helped Assad regain control over much of war-ravaged Syria.

More than 340,000 people have been killed since the conflict broke out in March 2011 with protests against Assad, who launched a brutal crackdown.

IS has also lost most of the territory it held in neighbouring Iraq.

IS suffers ‘complete defeat’: Putin

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that IS has suffered a “complete defeat” in eastern Syria at the hands of Syrian troops and Kurdish-led forces, both supported by Moscow.

During a visit to Nizhny Novgorod, Putin said Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told him that operations against IS on both the western and eastern banks of the Euphrates River had been successfully completed.

Putin said some isolated pockets of resistance could remain in the area.

Russian Gen Valery Gerasimov meanwhile told foreign military attaches that “all IS gangs on the territory of Syria have been destroyed and its territory has been freed.”

Gerasimov said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies that Syrian government forces coming from two directions met in eastern Syria Wednesday, completing the route.

He said “there is no area under IS control in Syria,” but the group is believed to still maintain a presence in some scattered areas.

The Russian military says it has provided air support to Kurdish forces and local tribes in the oil-rich province of Deir el-Zour in eastern Syria and helped coordinate their offensive against IS. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces on Sunday thanked both the U.S. and Russia for their military support, days after the US announced it would stop arming the group.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2017