Coalition warplanes launched a fresh wave of airstrikes against Islamic State targets across Syria on Saturday, despite demonstrations in the town of al Atareb condemning the US-led assault, which residents have blamed for the deaths of at least 27 people, including civilians, in the area.
The protests in al Atareb on Friday brought together dozens of people who marched and chanted through the streets, some holding placards. One sign written in English read: “Don’t kill our children by your aircrafts.”
The outcry from residents comes three days after coalition forces conducted joint drone and plane strikes against a militant base. The bodies of at least 27 locals were pulled out of the rubble, including an unspecified number of civilians, according to a report from a group called the al Atareb Civil Defense.
Demonstrators took to the streets of al Atareb, west of Aleppo, on September 26, in protest over US-led airstrikes against Islamic State militants in the town.
Video purportedly showing victims being recovered from under the rubble after coalition airstrikes in Al Atareb.
The protests did not deter international coalition forces from continuing the air campaign across various Syrian cities Saturday.
Warplanes in Syria are now striking on a “near continuous” basis, comparable with the level of air activity in Iraq, which began earlier last month, an unidentified US official told AFP.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that coalition forces carried out air raids in the village of Sitalab in the southeast of Ayn al Arab, Aleppo, while multiple explosions were also heard in and around the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa Saturday.
The Observatory said at least 31 “massive explosions” had been reported in Raqqa. The blasts caused an unspecified number of casualties, and targeted several locations, including a militant training camp and several army bases located south of al Tabaqa military airport.
This video, uploaded to an account associated with Islamic State militants (formerly ISIS/ISIL) on September 26, is described as showing the aftermath of a US lead strike on the city of Raqqa.
Meanwhile, the Islamic State began shelling the city of al Bab east of Aleppo, killing at least one man and injuring several others, the Observatory said.
Coalition support has broadened since the US-led airstrikes in Syria started Tuesday. France was the first to pledge to assistance to President Barack Obama’s plan, while Australia, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Britain have also joined the air campaign in recent days. Germany has supported the strikes, but has not sent in any aircraft.
Allies from Gulf and Middle East nations, including Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, have also participated in the strikes, with some international media attention focusing this week on strikes led by Maj. Mariam Al Mansouri, the UAE’s first female fighter pilot.
US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told reporters Friday that at least 40 airstrikes had been conducted against Islamic State targets in Syria since the beginning of the week.
“Combined with our ongoing efforts in Iraq, these strikes will continue to deny ISIL freedom of movement and challenge its ability to plan, direct, and sustain its operations,” Hagel said, using the Islamic State’s alternative acronym, at a press briefing alongside General Martin E. Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“Our coalition strikes this week demonstrate to ISIL that they have no safe haven in Syria,” Dempsey added. “Our targeted actions are disrupting ISIL’s command and control, their logistic capabilities, and their infrastructure in Syria. While in Iraq, we’re empowering our Iraqi partners to go back on the offensive.”
Hagel also reinforced that the strikes were not being conducted in coordination with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which has “lost all legitimacy to govern,” he said.
Assad has not yet expressed any objections to the coalition’s air bombardment, which could help his government’s forces push back the Islamic State militants it has also been battling for months. But Assad has condemned a US proposal to arm and train “moderate” Syrian rebels to fight the insurgency.
The Syrian government has been engaged in battles against both Islamic State militants and rebels seeking to overthrow the regime throughout the country’s bloody three-year civil war.
Syria’s longtime ally, Russia, has sprung to the country’s defense, raising queries on the legality of the airstrikes.
“It’s very important that such cooperation with Syrian authorities is established, even now that it’s an accomplished fact,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters at a UN conference in New York Friday.
The airstrikes have triggered a mass exodus of 140,000 Syrians across it’s borders since last week, adding to the already critical humanitarian and refugee situation in Syria and neighboring countries.