Skip to main content

Anti-IS coalition airstrikes in Syria kill dozens of civilians: reports

At least 52 people killed in Aleppo province, as activists say government forces use chemical weapons in neighbouring Idlib province
A man protects himself from the aftermath of a reported barrel bomb attack in Aleppo on 1 May (AFP)

US-led airstrikes targeting Islamic State killed at least 52 civilians in a village in northern Syria on Friday, a monitoring group has said, while government forces reportedly targeted a neighbouring province with chemical weapons on Saturday morning.

Early on Friday morning, airstrikes by the coalition on the village of Bir Mahle in Aleppo province killed 52 civilians, according to Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. 

"Seven children were killed, and 13 people are still trapped in the rubble," he said.

Abdel Rahman told AFP that Kurdish militiamen and Syrian rebel fighters were clashing with IS in a town roughly two kilometres away.

"But Bir Mahle is only [inhabited by] civilians, with no IS positions and no clashes," he said.

Abdel Rahman said "not a single IS fighter" was killed in the strikes on the village, but that raids on a nearby town had killed at least seven militants. 

Bir Mahle is a small village in eastern Aleppo province – its total population numbered around 430 in the most recent census in 2004.

Activists circulated graphic images on social media purporting to show the aftermath of coalition airstrikes.

Airstrikes by the US-led coalition have supported Kurdish militias fighting the IS militants in Aleppo province, most notably in the flashpoint border town of Kobane, which is near Birmahle. 

Backed by the strikes, Kurdish fighters drove IS out of Kobane in January. 

A statement released on Friday by the joint task force for the anti-IS coalition said it had conducted six airstrikes near Kobane on IS tactical units. 

Prior to Friday's strikes, the coalition's raids had killed 66 civilians since it began attacking IS positions in Syria in September 2014. 

According to the Britain-based Observatory, the air campaign has killed more than 2,000 people in total, including at least 1,922 IS fighters.  

The US State Department had not commented on the reports at the time of publication.

Hours after the reported strike, activists said forces loyal to embattled President Bashar al-Assad attacked villages in the neighbouring province of Idlib with chlorine gas, leaving at least one child dead.

Eighty-five people also suffered temporary asphyxiation as a result of the attack, according to the Turkey-based SMART News Agency, which is composed of refugee Syrian journalists and activists.

Two locations in Idlib province, the town of Saraqib and nearby village al-Nayrab, were targeted according to Leith Abdullah, a member of Syria’s civil defence forces who spoke to SMART.

An amateur video purported to show injured children being treated at a nearby hospital - the injuries sustained were said to include severe coughing, vomiting and burns to the throat and eyes.

Abdullah warned that, though many of the injuries were not life-threatening, a lack of medical equipment made it difficult to treat the large numbers of people who flooded into temporary health centres.

“The capacity of hospitals and health centres is very limited; when there are many injuries, or those injuries are severe, there is not enough medicine or oxygen equipment.”

The use of chlorine gas as a weapon has been illegal under international law since the early 20th century – however, use of the gas by forces loyal to Assad has been documented throughout the conflict.

Human Rights Watch reported last month that chemical attacks in Idlib province at the end of March affected over 200 people.

Attacks on Idlib province, which borders Aleppo province to the west, have been stepped up since rebels overran the area last week.

Analysts said that the capture last week of Jisr al-Shughur, a key supply route, could be a game-changer in the prolonged Syrian conflict.

Since then, government attacks and airstrikes have stepped up, in an attempt to recapture the territory.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.