Tuesday, February 19, 2019 | ePaper

US-led strikes on Syria pro-regime forces kill 100

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Syrian pro-government forces pound Islamic State group positions in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor with tank fire during an operation against the jihadists.

AFP, Beirut :
The US-led coalition killed at least 100 regime and allied fighters in retaliation for an attack in eastern Syria, a US official said, in one of the deadliest incidents of its kind.
The flare-up lasted into the small hours of Thursday and was sparked by an attack on positions held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Deir Ezzor province.
The clash came against a backdrop of escalating tensions between Washington and Damascus over an uptick in the suspected use of chemical weapons by the regime and allied militia. According to the US Central Command, coalition advisers were also present at the site of the attack late on Tuesday.
"The coalition conducted strikes against attacking forces to repel the act of aggression," it said.
"We estimate more than 100 Syrian pro-regime forces were killed while engaging SDF and coalition forces," while one SDF member was wounded, a US military official said on condition of anonymity.
The SDF and the coalition targeted the attacking forces with air and artillery strikes after "20 to 30 artillery and tank rounds landed within 500 metres (yards) of the SDF headquarters location," the official said.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which only confirmed 20 dead among regime and allied forces, the initial attack took place near Khasham.
The town lies along the Euphrates river, southeast of the provincial capital of Deir Ezzor.
"Regime forces struck SDF positions in several villages and an oil field with artillery fire," Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Britain-based monitoring group, said.
"The SDF responded with artillery fire on regime positions in the town of Khasham before the intervention of coalition forces," he said.
Regime and SDF fighters were involved in several skirmishes in the area last year, as they each conducted parallel operations against some of the Islamic State jihadist group's last bastions.
"Coalition service members in an advise, assist, and accompany capacity were co-located with SDF partners during the attack eight kilometers east of the agreed-upon Euphrates River de-confliction line," the statement said.
Using an alternative acronym for IS, the coalition said it then "conducted strikes against attacking forces to repel the act of aggression against partners engaged in the Global Coalition's defeat-Daesh mission."
The statement did not say whether the incident caused casualties.
The coalition is working to uproot the last IS fighters from the east bank of the Euphrates with the support of the SDF, an alliance of Kurdish fighters and Arabs.
According to a verbal agreement with Moscow, Russian fighters who support President Bashar al-Assad's regime are expected to stay on the west bank of the Euphrates.
The CENTCOM statement did not specify who the aggressors were, as the term "pro-regime" could refer to Syrian pro-government forces or the Russian army-with which incidents have escalated in recent months as the combat zone narrows.
"The Coalition remains committed to focusing on the defeat-Daesh mission in the Middle Euphrates River Valley and asserts its non-negotiable right to act in self-defense," the statement said.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan agreed to strengthen coordination between the two countries' military and security services in Syria in the fight against terrorism, the Kremlin said in a statement.
Putin and Erdogan, in a telephone conversation, also discussed the prospects for new contacts between Russia, Turkey and Iran on Syria, the statement said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said a possible summit meeting between the leaders of the three countries was discussed, but no date has been agreed, RIA news agency reported.

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