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Syria strikes kill over 20 near IS stronghold

US adds to forces in Syria to expedite IS defeat

ALEPPO: Syrian government forces advance on the eastern outskirts of Aleppo on Wednesday near the town of Al- Khafsah, where regime forces retook a key water pumping station the day before. —AFP

BEIRUT: At least 20 civilians, including some children, were killed in suspected US-coalition airstrikes on a village east of the Islamic State group’s de-facto capital in Syria, activists reported yesterday. The report comes as the militants come under mounting pressure by rival US-backed and Russian-backed forces working to seize the capital, Raqqa.

Also yesterday, engineers restored two water pumping stations that feed water to the country’s largest city, Aleppo, in territory captured by the Syrian government from IS militants this week, state media reported. Aleppo, once Syria’s industrial capital, suffered for years from severe water shortages as the government and opposition fighters contested the city and the Islamic State group controlled its upstream source – the pumping stations at the town of Khafseh on the Euphrates River.

Pro-government forces defeated the rebels in the city just before the new year and took Khafseh from IS militants earlier this week. Residents in Aleppo have depended on wells and water deliveries arranged by the government, charities and the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF. Imad Al-Khal, 64, a resident of al- Aziziyeh neighborhood in Aleppo, told The Associated Press that municipal water hasn’t reached her home in nine weeks.

In the area east of Raqqa, the activist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently reported at least 20 civilians were killed in airstrikes Wednesday night on Matab Village. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, however, said the strikes occurred before dawn Tuesday and killed 23 people, including eight children. It was not possible to reconcile the two accounts – the Islamic State group maintains a tight grip on communications from its territory. The Observatory and RBSS get their information from closely guarded local contacts.

US aid
A US Marines artillery unit has deployed to Syria in recent days to help local forces speed up efforts to defeat Islamic State at Raqqa and the campaign to isolate the city is going “very, very well”, the US-led coalition said yesterday. Coalition spokesman US Air Force Colonel John Dorrian said the additional US forces would be working with local partners in Syria – the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Syrian Arab Coalition – and would not have a front line role.

The additional deployment comprises a total of 400 US forces – both Marines and Army Rangers. It adds to around 500 US military personnel already in Syria, Dorrian said. The SDF, which includes the Kurdish YPG militia, is the main US partner in the war against Islamic State insurgents in Syria. Since November it has been working with the US-led coalition to encircle Raqqa, IS’s main urban bastion in Syria. This week, the SDF cut the road between Raqqa and the jihadists’ stronghold of Deir al-Zor province – the last main road out of the city. —Agencies

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