Air raids on an Islamic State-held village and town in Syria have killed at least 32 civilians over the past two days, activists said Monday, underscoring the risk for hundreds of thousands of residents trapped in areas under the militant group’s control ahead of the looming battle for Raqqa. The UN envoy for Syria meanwhile insisted that the latest round of peace talks between the government and the opposition in Geneva are serious, after President Bashar Assad said last week that they were just for show.
Staffan de Mistura assured reporters that the government delegation attending the talks is “here to work.” The talks are scheduled to begin Tuesday and last around four days. The envoy declined to comment on Assad’s remarks, aired by Belarus ONT television on Thursday. The Syrian leader said “nothing substantial” would come from the talks and that they were “merely a meeting for the media.”
The delegations aren’t expected to meet face-to-face, and de Mistura has called for reduced media involvement to foster a more “businesslike” atmosphere. It was not immediately clear who was behind the strikes on the village of Akayrshi on Sunday and the town of Boukamal on the Syrian-Iraqi border today, and activists blamed the US-led coalition.
The coalition, in an emailed response to The Associated Press, said it did not conduct airstrikes on Boukamal today. It added, however, that the coalition had conducted strikes near the western edge of Akayrshi and would assess the reports. The coalition has come under increasing scrutiny by monitoring groups regarding civilian casualties in the fight against the Islamic State group in both Iraq and Syria. The Pentagon acknowledged late last month that at least 352 civilians have been killed by coalition strikes in the two countries since the start of the air campaign against IS in 2014.
However, activists and monitoring groups say the number is much higher. Access is restricted to IS-held areas, and details are hard to come by. The raid on Boukamal took place around 3 a.m., according to the activist-run Justice for Life, with fighter jets striking a mosque and surrounding houses. Omar Abu Laila, of the activist-run Deir Ezzor 24, said the airstrikes destroyed 15 homes and killed at least 20 civilians who had fled from other areas in Iraq and Syria.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 23 civilians were killed, with the toll likely to rise. Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman says IS fighters were also killed.