The head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition called for a suspension of the U.S.-led air campaign against ISIS terrorist organization in Syria while reports of dozens of civilian deaths from air strikes around the northern city of Manbij are investigated.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 56 civilians were killed in air strikes north of Manbij on Tuesday, a day after it said 21 civilians were killed in a northern district of the besieged, ISIS-held city.
SNC president Anas al-Abdah said the strikes should be halted while the incidents were investigated, and warned that the killing of civilians by U.S.-led aircraft would “prove to be a recruitment tool for terrorist organisations”.
“It is essential that such investigation not only result in revised rules of procedure for future operations, but also inform accountability for those responsible for such major violations,” Abdah wrote in a letter to foreign ministers of countries in the anti-ISIS alliance.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Wednesday the U.S.-led force would look into the reports of civilian casualties around Manbij.
The Observatory said the dead from Tuesday’s air strike included 11 children. The United Nations children’s agency UNICEF said it had been told that families were preparing to flee when the villages they were in came under air attack.
“UNICEF estimates that 35,000 children are trapped in and around Manbij with nowhere safe to go,” the agency’s representative in Syria, Hanaa Singer, said.
U.S.-Backed Syrian Force Gives ISIS 48 Hours to Leave Manbij
A U.S.-backed force fighting to drive ISIS out of Manbij said on Thursday it was giving the jihadist group 48 hours to pull out of their stronghold in the northern Syrian city, aiming to “protect civilian lives” there.
“This initiative is the last remaining chance for besieged members of Daesh (ISIS) to leave the town,” said the Manbij Military Council, part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance, using an Arabic acronym for the jihadist group.
ISIS militants will be allowed to leave the city with light weapons, without a fight, the council said in a statement.
The statement also urged civilians to try to leave the town or distance themselves from areas where clashes are taking place.
The council is allied to the U.S.-backed Kurdish and Arab alliance known as the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), which has been fighting ISIS in northern Syria with the support of air strikes from a U.S.-led coalition.
The SDF fighters, who quickly took control of the territory surrounding Manbij last month, have in recent weeks taken western parts of the city in slower advances.
Activists say the death of civilians this week in air strikes in the city and to the north, and the opposition Syrian National Coalition called for a suspension of the air strikes while the incidents are investigated.
The deaths triggered local protests, as well as opposition calls for a halt to such strikes and demands for a thorough investigation.
An SDF commander told AFP that tribal leaders in Manbij had suggested a 48-hour ultimatum last week.
“But we took this decision now after ISIS used residents as human shields, after the media pressure on us, and to protect whatever civilians are left in the town,” the commander said on condition of anonymity.
Clashes and air strikes continued Thursday in Manbij, where SDF forces advanced overnight, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said SDF fighters seized a southern district of the town, “bringing them the closest they have been to the center of Manbij.”
U.N. CONDEMNS KILLING
The U.N.’s children agency condemned the killing of children amid Syria’s ongoing civil war following the brutal incidents in the country’s north.
UNICEF said in a statement distributed Thursday “no matter where they are in Syria or under whose control they live – absolutely nothing justifies attacks on children.”
French President Francois Hollande said on Thursday he had no immediate information on whether French planes were responsible for the air strike.
Syria’s foreign ministry had said Tuesday’s attack, which hit the village of Toukhan north of Manbij, was carried out by French forces.
“On the actions of the coalition, I have no exact information on what French planes could have done,” Hollande said. “We are striking in the framework of the coalition and are very careful in our strikes,” he told reporters alongside Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny.
A spokesman for the U.S.-led alliance said there were “multiple national aircraft providing strikes in Manbij. So how the Syrian government knows who conducted what strike, I question.”