Air raids on an Islamic State-held village and town in Syria have killed at least 32 civilians over the past two days, activists said Monday.
The U.N. envoy for Syria meanwhile insisted that the latest round of peace talks between the government and the opposition in Geneva are serious, after President Bashar Assad said last week that they were just for show.
Staffan de Mistura assured reporters that the government delegation attending the talks is “here to work.” The talks are scheduled to begin Tuesday and last around four days.
The envoy declined to comment on Assad’s remarks, aired by Belarus ONT television on Thursday. The Syrian leader said “nothing substantial” would come from the talks and that they were “merely a meeting for the media.”
The delegations aren’t expected to meet face-to-face, and de Mistura has called for reduced media involvement to foster a more “businesslike” atmosphere.
It was not immediately clear who was behind the strikes on the village of Akayrshi on Sunday and the town of Boukamal on the Syrian-Iraqi border Monday. Activists blamed the U.S.-led coalition, which responded to an Associated Press query by saying it would look into the reports.
The raid on Boukamal took place around 3 a.m., according to the activist-run Justice for Life, with fighter jets striking a mosque and surrounding houses.
Omar Abu Laila, of the activist-run Deir Ezzor 24, said the airstrikes destroyed 15 homes and killed at least 20 civilians who had fled from other areas in Iraq and Syria.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 23 civilians were killed, with the toll likely to rise. Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman says IS fighters were also killed.
The Observatory said 12 women were killed in the strikes on Akayrshi, while the activist-run Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently said the strikes hit a convoy of farm workers, killing 22 people.
The IS-run Aamaq news agency claimed 22 women were killed and eight wounded in a drone strike on a bus in Akayrshi, a village about 16 kilometers (10 miles) from Raqqa, the group’s self-styled capital. It said another 25 civilians were killed in Boukamal.
U.S.-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian forces are advancing on Raqqa after capturing several nearby towns and villages from the extremists.
The Trump administration last week authorized the Pentagon to supply the force with heavy weapons for the Raqqa campaign, rankling Turkey, which says the fighters are affiliated with Kurdish insurgents operating within its own borders.
President Vladimir Putin praised the Syrian Kurdish force as “one of the most efficient units” battling IS and said Moscow has “working contacts” with them, but he said his country is not planning to provide arms. Putin said the Kurds “have other sources of obtaining the weapons.”
Russia has been waging an air campaign to support Assad’s forces since 2015.
Source: Associated Press