Air strikes on IS stronghold in Syria kill 15

DAMASCUS: At least 15 civilians were killed on Saturday in strikes by suspected US-led coalition warplanes on a key stronghold of the IS extremist militia in Syria, a monitoring group said. The planes targeted the village of Hneida on the outskirts of Al Raqqa, the de facto capital of IS in the war-torn country, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The dead included four children, according to the watchdog, which relies on a network of activists in Syria. A witness said the bombardment had struck an Internet cafe in Hnedia. “Seventeen people were killed and 12 injured (and) the building was completely destroyed,” Mohammed Al Ajeily said. “The number of casualties is expected to rise because some of the injured are in critical condition and due to a shortage of medical centres in the area.”
Residents of areas under IS control go to Internet cafes because the radical group bans access to the Internet at home. Since November, US-backed forces have pressed ahead with a major offensive aimed at seizing Al Raqqa, a city that has been under IS rule since 2014. Elsewhere in Syria, unidentified warplanes struck Khan Sheikhoun, the rebel-held town that was the site of a suspected chemical weapons attack earlier this week, the Observatory said. At least one woman was killed and another civilian injured in the air raid, which targeted the eastern part of Khan Sheikhoun in the north-western province of Idlib.
The bombardment comes a day after the United States launched dozens of missiles against a government airbase in central Syria from where Tuesday’s chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhoun is thought to have been launched. The Observatory said that 87 civilians, including 31 children, were killed in Tuesday’s attack, which was widely attributed to the Syrian government. Syria has denied the claim. Meanwhile Syria’s state news agency said that hundreds more Syrian rebels and their families left the last opposition-held neighbourhood of the central city of Homs on Saturday. SANA reported that at least 242 rebels had left Waer along with their families under a deal granting them safe passage to opposition-held territory elsewhere in the country.
Homs provincial governor Talal Barazi said up to 400 rebels and their relatives were expected to leave by the end of the day, with evacuations continuing each week until the end of the month. Saturday’s evacuations were the fourth batch of rebel departures from Waer under a Russian-supervised deal to bring all of Homs city under government control. The agreement reached in early February followed an earlier deal that stalled after a series of evacuations. It calls for Russian forces to enter Waer after the evacuations to guarantee the safety of remaining civilians. Those leaving are headed to rebel-held territory elsewhere in Homs province, or to Idlib in northwest Syria and Jarabulus in northern Aleppo province. — DPA/AFP