Airstrikes against "Islamic State" ("IS") have been extended in Syria as part of "near continuous" raids against the jihadist group. This comes as three more European governments have agreed to join the strikes.
The US-led coalition hit "IS" targets in Syria's central province of Homs for the first time on Saturday as well as in the town of Minbej, near the western limit of "IS" control, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
London-based Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said the targets hit in Homs province were far away from the front line in fighting between rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad who control Homs city.
"The US-Arab coalition has for the first time struck "IS" bases in the eastern desert of Homs province," Abdel Rahman said, adding that the positions were in the area of Al-Hammad, east of Palmyra.
The coalition also pounded the Euphrates Valley city of Raqqa, which the jihadists have made the headquarters of the "caliphate" they declared in June - straddling swathes of Iraq and Syria.
"At least 31 explosions were heard in Raqqa city and its surroundings," said the Observatory.
"Combined with our ongoing efforts in Iraq, these strikes will continue to deny ISIL freedom of movement and challenge its ability to plan, direct, and sustain its operations," US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said on Friday, using a former name of the group.
Also on Friday, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that between 12,000 and 15,000 US-trained and -armed rebel fighters would be required in Syria to defeat IS. Washington, unwilling to work with the Syrian government after its military behavior in the country's civil war, currently plans to arm and train 5,000 rebel fighters.
"Five thousand has never been the end state," Dempsey said, saying that airstrikes alone could not succeed and that a "ground component" was an important aspect to the mission in eastern Syria.
"We believe that the path to develop is the Syrian moderate opposition," Dempsey said, adding that new allies would be carefully screened. "We have to do it right, not fast."
Britain, Belgium and Denmark to deploy jets
Politicians in Britain on Friday agreed to participate in airstrikes against "IS" targets in Iraq, but not in Syria. The White House thanked its new coalition members in a statement, also drawing attention to the non-European support in Syrian airspace.
"These decisions - along with those by Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Qatar to participate in airstrikes against ISIL in Syria - demonstrate the clear commitment of the international community to take action together against these terrorists," the statement read.
British lawmakers voted 524-43 in favor of airstrikes over Iraq. The jets were reported to have left Cyprus on Saturday, according to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
"This is about psychopathic terrorists that are trying to kill and we do have to realize that, whether we like it or not, they have already declared war on us," British Prime Minister David Cameron told parliament in Friday's debate. "There isn't a 'walk on by' option. There isn't an option of just hoping it will go away."
Parliamentarians in Brussels - which is where one suspected terror attack believed to be linked to "IS" was carried out - voted 114-2 on a similar bill on Friday. Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt has also offered seven F-16 fighter jets, again for use over Iraq, not Russia-ally Syria. This pledge still required parliamentary approval, but a green light was considered likely.
Germany has committed weaponry, humanitarian aid and training for Iraqis either fighting against or displaced by the "IS" advance, but has ruled out direct military intervention. The first German weapons deliveries arrived in Iraq on Friday.
glb/sb (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)