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Middle East

Airstrikes on Syrian mosque leave dozens dead

Despite a "cessation of hostilities," airstrikes have hit a mosque in a rebel-held city in northern Syria. The US military has said it conducted the bombings but did not deliberately target the mosque.

Airstrikes on a village mosque in northern Syria on Thursday left at least 42 people dead, reported the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

"The raids by unidentified warplanes targeted a mosque in Aleppo province during evening prayers, killing 42 people, most of them civilians," said Rami Abdel Rahman, the Observatory's director.

"More than 100 people were wounded," he added, noting that dozens were still trapped under the rubble as volunteer paramedics known as the White Helmets searched for survivors.

The al-Jineh village, which lies just over 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) west of Aleppo, is held by rebel and Islamist groups, although no jihadi factions are present.

US Central Command (Centcom) said that it had launched an airstrike in the vicinity. However, it said it did not target a mosque, but that it would investigate allegations of civilian casualties "in relation to this strike."

"US forces conducted an airstrike on an al-Qaeda in Syria meeting location March 16 in Idlib, Syria, killing several terrorist," Centcom said in a statement. "Idlib has been a significant safe haven for al-Qaeda in recent years."

Despite a nationwide cessation of hostilities brokered by Turkey and Russia in December, violence has continued to erupt across the country.

Government forces backed by Russian airstrikes continue to launch attacks on alleged terrorists, while the US-led coalition targets the self-styled "Islamic State" and al Qaeda-affiliated militants.

Seventh year of violence

On Wednesday, the sixth anniversary of the conflict, suicide attacks in Damascus left at least 30 people dead, marking a rare, deadly event in the nation's capital.

Steffan de Mistura, the UN envoy for Syria, condemned the "terrorist attacks" in Damascus, saying they are "plainly designed to spoil attempts to sustain political talks."

Renewed UN-sponsored peace talks have failed to move towards a political solution to the conflict as it enters its seventh year.

The conflict erupted in 2011 when government forces launched a brutal crackdown on peaceful protests demanding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step down.

Since then, more than 300,000 people have been killed and half the population displaced, according to UN figures.

'Total destruction'

Meanwhile, Syria's government asked UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to pressure the US-led coalition against the "Islamic State" to halt attacks near the Euphrates and Tishrin dams in order to avert a "looming catastrophe."

"The total destruction of these dams that are being targeted by the airstrikes will wash away and flood cities, towns and villages, endangering the lives of hundreds of thousands of people living in those areas," said Syria's Deputy UN Ambassador Mounzer Mounzer in a letter.

Since 2014, an international coalition led by the US has targeted the "Islamic State" in Iraq and Syra. Washington said earlier this month that its airstrikes have inadvertently killed at least 220 civilians, although critics have put the number much higher.

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ls/sms (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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