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US-led coalition says it targeted 'al-Qaeda in Syria'

Claim of responsibility follows reports of strikes on Hurras al-Deen militant group in Syria's northwest
Smoke billows from the embattled village of Baghouz in the northern Syrian Deir Ezzor province during air strikes by the US-backed coalition against the Islamic State (IS) group (AFP)

The US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State (IS) group has claimed responsibility for an attack on an al-Qaeda-linked group in northwest Syria on Sunday.

In a statement, US Central Command said its jets had struck the leadership of al-Qaeda in Syria (AQ-S) at a training facility near the province of Aleppo.

"Northwest Syria remains a safe haven where AQ-S leaders actively coordinate terrorist activities, to include planning attacks throughout the region and in the West," said the statement.

'Northwest Syria remains a safe haven where AQ-S leaders actively coordinate terrorist activities'

- US military

"With our allies and partners, we will continue to target [IS] and al-Qaeda to prevent both groups from using Syria as a safe haven."

On Sunday, UK-based activist group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that a missile strike had killed six commanders of Hurras al-Deen.

Hurras al-Deen maintains ties to al-Qaeda and fights alongside Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which is led by the militant group's former Syrian branch.

Two Tunisians, two Algerians, an Egyptian and a Syrian were among those killed, according to the Observatory.

Militant control

HTS dominates most of Idlib province as well as parts of neighbouring Hama, Aleppo and Latakia. Hurras al-Deen was established in February 2018 and has some 1,800 fighters, including non-Syrians, according to the Observatory. 

Since its formation in 2014, the US-led coalition against IS has targeted militant leaders in Syria's northwest, but the strikes have dropped off significantly since 2017. 

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In March 2017, the Observatory said a US-led strike on a mosque in the north of Aleppo province killed 49 people, most of them civilians.

The Pentagon denied that large numbers of civilians were killed or that it had targeted the religious building, acknowledging only one possible civilian death.

The greater Idlib area is supposed to be protected by a buffer zone, which was set up around the rebel-held enclave in a September agreement between Russia and Turkey.

However, backed by its ally Moscow, Damascus has since late April ramped up its bombardment of the region, home to some three million people - nearly half of whom have been displaced from other parts of Syria. 

That came after HTS took over administrative control of the Idlib region at the start of the year.