Past month ‘deadliest on record’ for Syrian civilians killed in US-led air strikes

Total of 225 people, including 36 women and 44 children, killed by friendly fire in the last four-week period, monitor says

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Air strikes carried out by the US and its coalition partners in Syria have killed the highest number of civilians on record since the bombing campaign began, a war monitor has said.

A total of 225 civilians, including 36 women and 44 children, were killed in the period between 23 April to 23 May, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The toll is the highest number of recorded deaths since the international air campaign against Isis began in September 2014.

“The past month of operations is the highest civilian toll since the coalition began bombing Syria,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP news agency.

“There has been a very big escalation.”

At least 122 Isis fighters and eight members of militias loyal to the Syrian government were also killed in the same period, the Observatory said.

The strikes are conducted without the consent of the Syrian government, with which the US does not have official diplomatic ties, and have long been criticised by Damascus and Syria’s allies in Moscow and Tehran for causing unnecessary loss of life.

One incident in 2016 a strike designed to take out Isis weapons depots and other positions near Deir Ez Zour in the north of the country accidentally targeted Syrian army positions instead, killing 62 soldiers.

However, since US President Donald Trump entered office in January this year there has been a marked uptick in civilian deaths in bombing operations against Isis across both Syria and neighbouring Iraq.

In March, the US was accused of killing around 300 civilians alone after one strike which hit a mosque in Aleppo province and two incidents in the fight for Isis-controlled neighbourhoods of the Iraqi city of Mosul.

Earlier this month, the US military said that coalition air strikes in Iraq and Syria had ”unintentionally“ killed 352 civilians since the campaign began, but rights groups have blasted the estimate as too low, saying the US is guilty of not taking “sufficient precautions” to avoid civilian deaths.

SOHR’s own estimate is that 1,481 people, among them 319 children, have been killed by US-led air operations since 2014.

US investigations into the three March incidents are still underway.

The Pentagon has denied there has been any significant change in US-led bombing strategy since former President Barack Obama left office.

On Friday, however, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said Mr Trump has “directed a tactical shift from shoving Isis out of safe locations in an attrition fight to surrounding the enemy in their strongholds so we can annihilate [them].

”The intent is to prevent the return home of escaped foreign fighters,“ he added.

Isis now holds onto just a fraction of the territory under its control at the height of the group’s powers in 2014.

Twin US-backed campaigns to oust fighters from their last urban strongholds – Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq – are underway, led by local forces on the ground assisted by 5,000 US military advisors.

The complex Syrian civil war has killed almost 500,000 people, the UN says, and is now in its seventh year.

Bethan McKernan

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