Syrian opposition asks US-led coalition to halt strikes after reports of mass civilian casualties

The head of Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), urged the US-led coalition to suspend its aerial campaign against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) after reports that air strikes resulted in dozens of civilian deaths.

The coalition strikes should be halted while French and US-led incidents involving heavy civilian casualties, which occurred in the area around the northern Syria city of Manbij, are being investigated, SNC’s president, Anas al Abdah, said in a statement issued late Wednesday, warning that the deaths of civilians during coalition strikes could “prove to be a recruitment tool for terrorist organizations,” Reuters reported.

"It is essential that such investigation not only result in revised rules of procedure for future operations, but also inform accountability for those responsible for such major violations," Abdah wrote to the foreign ministers of the countries, taking part in the coalition efforts.

Another western-backed opposition group, the Free Syrian Army, also condemned the incidents in the Manbij area by calling them “shocking massacres.”“We will not allow any crime to be justified under the pretext of combating terrorism,” the Free Syrian Army said in a statement signed by more than 30 armed factions, as quoted by Reuters.

Syrian authorities accuse the French military of killing more than 120 civilians in air strikes near the Turkish-Syrian border and the city of Manbij on Tuesday. They also said that on Monday the US war planes killed around 20 people, mainly women and children, while many more were injured in and around the city of Manbij.

On Wednesday, the Syrian Foreign Ministry addressed the UN Secretary-General and the president of the UN Security Council, asking them to take action following the deadly strikes. At the same time, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Wednesday that the coalition is aware of and will look into the report of civilian deaths following recent airstrikes near Manbij.

The Department of Defense “is looking into the veracity of reports about civilian casualties” during US airstrikes in the Manbij area, US State Department spokesman John Kirby said, answering a question from an RT reporter.

“No other military, none works as hard to prevent civilian casualties” as the US forces, he said adding that “when it happens we investigate it, report the findings and we take lessons learned.”

French President Francois Hollande said on Thursday that he has no precise information on the French air forces’ responsibility for the civilian deaths in the Manbij area.

"On the actions of the coalition, I have no exact information on what French planes could have done," Hollande told journalists. “We are striking in the framework of the coalition and are very careful in our strikes,” he added.

The French Foreign Ministry also said in a daily briefing that it “gave no credit to statements made by the regime of Bashar al-Assad” and will rely on the results of an investigation conducted by the US-led coalition itself.

Reports of coalition airstrikes having led to massive civilian casualties provoked a wave of public outrage on social media and a series of demonstrations in several countries as many activists called for protests.

"We ask all Syrians, whatever their affiliations or sects, and all free people of the world and especially the people of Manbij to stand in solidarity with our devastated city on Sunday, July 24," an activist group that publishes local news about Manbij wrote on its Facebook page, calling for protests under the banner “Manbij is being exterminated,” as reported by the Middle East Eye.

Another Manbij-affiliated Facebook page posted photographs of protesters holding a rally in the Syrian western city of Azaz. "The Al-Tukhar massacre is a stain of shame on humanity," a placard held by one of the demonstrators read, referring to the bombing of the Al-Tukhar village near Manbij.

Airwars, a website tracking civilian deaths in Syria, said in a Twitter post that this week witnessed the heaviest civilian death toll resulting from coalition air strikes in the last two years.

The strikes were also condemned by the UN children agency, UNICEF, which urged “all parties to the conflict in Syria to make every effort to avoid the loss of civilian lives.”

“No matter where they are in Syria or under whose control they live – absolutely nothing justifies attacks on children,” Hanaa Singer, UNICEF representative in Syria, said in a statement.

Amnesty International also denounced the Manbij area bombings and said that they “may have resulted in the largest loss of civilian life by coalition operations in Syria.” The organization also called for “a prompt, independent and transparent investigation to determine what happened, who was responsible, and how to avoid further needless loss of civilian life.”

In the meantime, a political commentator, Marwa Osman, told RT that the coalition apparently had been aware that its planes had been hitting an area inhabited by civilians, adding that 30 airstrikes could not be just a mistake.

“They blatantly call it ‘collateral damage’ when it is the lives of the Syrian people which are being lost here,” he said to RT.

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