US denies responsibility for Deir ez-Zor airstrikes that killed dozens
On Tuesday, the Syrian government blamed the US-led coalition for launching airstrikes in the eastern province of Deir ez-Zor that resulted in heavy civilian casualties. The airstrikes, which took place over the weekend, were denounced as “blatant aggression against the Syrian people” and a “flagrant violation of Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” the Syrian Foreign Ministry wrote to the UN, as cited by the official SANA news agency.
The lives of at least 31 people were claimed by the airstrike on the city of Al-Bukamal in the eastern Deir ez-Zor province bordering Iraq, the ministry stated, adding that the death toll is expected to climb further as the attack triggered collapse of a number of civilian homes and their inhabitants are feared to be buried under the rubble.
The ministry added that least 26 people perished in the Al-Ekirshi village in Raqqa province and scores were severely injured, accusing the “illegal US-led coalition” of targeting the residential quarters there.
Rebel activists also laid the blame on the coalition jets for the killings, although citing a different number of casualties. Unconfirmed reports of an alleged “massacre” in Al-Bukamal first surfaced Monday, also putting the blame for the attack on the coalition sortie and reporting the number of victims at 42. Among the killed civilians were reportedly at least 11 children, six women and 14 Iraqi refugees fleeing territory under Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS, ISIL) control.
Damascus has condemned the airstrikes as violations of international law, including the UN Charter, with the ministry appealing to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to draw attention to the reported crimes and to take steps to stop the indiscriminate bombing campaign. UN Secretary General António Guterres and the current UNSC President, Elbio Rosselli, are to receive the letter.
Meanwhile, a US Army representative refuted reports of the US-led coalition’s involvement in the strikes on Al-Bukamal, claiming that its jets were hitting the targets in a different area.
“We did not conduct strikes during the time period of alleged civilian casualties,” US Army spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon told Reuters in a statement Tuesday, noting that the coalition planes did strike the terrorist-controlled oil infrastructure some 50 km (31 miles) from the city.
However, Dillon revealed that some other countries, which he did not identify, were conducting bombing raids in Al-Bukamal at the time.
Last month, the coalition acknowledged that as result of its airstrikes in Syria and Iraq at least 352 people lost their lives from August 2014 to March 31, 2017. Despite the fact that reports of civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria have become increasingly common, the Operation Inherent Resolve’s joint task force states that less than 1 percent of all the coalitions’ engagements provoke claims of civilian casualties, estimating only 0.24 percent of them as “credible.”
The number of casualties officially recognized by the US and its coalition allies has been challenged by monitors, with estimates reaching as far as several thousand victims since 2014.
The situation in Iraq’s Mosul is particularly critical, with up to 350,000 people trapped in the old part of the city, enduring food and water shortages and facing daily risk of being struck from the air or caught into crosshairs between the advancing Iraqi troops and jihadists holed up there. Some 630,000 of the over 1 million Mosul population that managed to flee the city have been forced to live in overcrowded refugee camps near the city before they are transported to safety.