At least 40 people were killed on Saturday in airstrikes by the US-led coalition operating in Syria, according to a war monitor. About a dozen children were among more than 30 family members of "Islamic State" (IS) militants killed in Abu Husn village in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. The area is the last IS-controlled territory in eastern Syria.
Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the war monitor, said the airstrikes hit homes in the village near the town of Hajin, which lies along the border with Iraq. The strikes were also confirmed by Europe-based activist Omar Abou Leila, who said the death toll was difficult to verify.
Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika Deputy, the commander of the US-led Combined Joint Task Force, described the fight against IS as "difficult."
"These are some of the most determined fighters and they've had a lot of time to prepare their defensive positions, so this isn't an easy fight, and our Syrian democratic force partners with coalition support are taking the fight every day to the enemy," he said without addressing the report that most victims of Saturday's airstrikes were civilians.
The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters led by the YPG Kurdish militia, has been fighting on the ground since September to expel IS fighters from a pocket around Abu Husn. The SDF temporarily suspended its campaign in October after its forces came under fire by the Turkish military. Ankara considers the alliance a terrorist threat.
The US-led coalition, however, continued with airstrikes against IS. Last weekend, the SDF resumed the operation against IS after "intensive contacts" with the coalition and "strong diplomatic activity" to defuse the situation.
At least 191 civilians have been killed during the past month, including 65 children and 45 women, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. They are mostly Iraqis and believed to include family members of IS militants.
Deir el-Zour is an oil-rich province of the same name and is the largest and most important city in eastern Syria. It has been largely controlled by IS since 2014.
kw/sms (AP, AFP, dpa)