US-backed Syria militia says Russia hit forces at gas plant

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The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces militia on Monday accused Russia of killing one of its fighters and wounding others at a gas facility it captured two days ago from ISIS group in eastern Syria.

“Russian air strikes and mortar fire hit the Conoco gas plant where a large number of our forces are stationed,” SDF spokeswoman Lilwa Abdallah told AFP.

A statement issued later by the militia said one fighter had been killed and six more injured in the bombing.

Abdallah said Syrian regime forces carried out additional bombardment of SDF positions after the initial Russian bombing.

“We reserve the right to respond,” she added.

The SDF, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, captured the Conoco plant in Syria’s Deir Ezzor province on Saturday.

The militia is fighting a campaign against IS on the eastern side of the Euphrates river that cuts diagonally across Deir Ezzor, a resource-rich province that borders Iraq.

Syria’s regime, backed by its ally Russia, is carrying out its own campaign against ISIS in Deir Ezzor, largely on the western side of the Euphrates, including in the provincial capital Deir Ezzor city.

A “de-confliction” line is supposed to prevent the two campaigns from clashing, but Monday’s alleged bombardment is the second time the SDF has accused Russia and the regime of hitting its fighters.

On September 16, the group said six of its fighters were wounded in air strikes by regime and Russian warplanes in the Al-Sinaaiya area around seven kilometres (four miles) from the eastern bank of the Euphrates.

And on September 21, Moscow warned Washington of reprisals after accusing the SDF of firing on Syrian regime forces in the province.

Civilians dead in raids

US-led coalition strikes near the ISIS group’s Syrian stronghold Raqqa in March killed at least 84 civilians, including dozens of children, Human Rights Watch alleged Monday.

The group said the strikes hit two sites: a school housing displaced families in the town of Mansourah, and a market and bakery in the town of Tabqa.

It said witnesses acknowledged ISIS fighters had been present at both sites, but that large number of civilians were also there.

“These attacks killed dozens of civilians, including children, who had sought shelter in a school or were lining up to buy bread at a bakery,” HRW deputy emergencies director Ole Solvang said.

“If coalition forces did not know that there were civilians at these sites, they need to take a long, hard look at the intelligence they are using to verify its targets because it clearly was not good enough.”

HRW said the first of the two strikes was on March 20, and killed at least 40 people including 16 children at the Badia School in Mansourah. The second was on March 22 and killed at least 44 people including 14 children at the Tabqa market and bakery.

US -backed Syrian SDF militias said that Russian warplanes targeted their positions near a major gas field in Deir al-Zor province.

The US-led coalition has been carrying out air strikes in support of anti-ISIS operations in Syria since September 2014, after expanding its existing campaign in neighboring Iraq.

Since last November, it has been supporting the Kurdish-Arab alliance known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as it battles to capture Raqqa province, including its capital Raqqa city.

The SDF broke into Raqqa city in June and is on the verge of capturing the former militant bastion.

But activists have criticized what they say are disproportionately high civilian death tolls in the campaign.

The coalition says it take all possible precautions to avoid civilian casualties and investigates credible reports of civilian deaths in its strikes.

In August, it acknowledged the deaths of 624 civilians in its strikes in Syria and Iraq since 2014.

But rights groups say the real figure is much higher, and HRW criticized the coalition’s methodology for assessing civilian casualties.

It said the coalition reported having assessed the Mansourah and Tabqa strikes, but it appeared they carried out no site visits nor witness interviews even though both places have been under SDF control for weeks.

“If the coalition had visited the sites and talked to witnesses they would have found plenty of evidence that civilians were killed in these attacks,” Solvang said.

“The coalition should follow our lead, conduct full investigations, and find ways to make its civilian casualty assessments more accurate.”

More than 330,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began with anti-government protests in March 2011.