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US Claims Syria Strike, Denies Targeting Mosque | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Syrian men and Civil Defense volunteers evacuate a victim from a building following an air strike on the village of Maaret al-Numan, in Idlib. (AFP Photo)

The US said it carried out an air strike in Syria’s northern province of Aleppo against an Al-Qaeda meeting but denied deliberately targeting a mosque where the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Friday 46 people were killed.

The Britain-based Observatory said most of the dead in the Thursday evening raid on Al-Jineh area, near the rebel-held province of Idlib, were civilians.

“We did not target a mosque, but the building that we did target — which was where the meeting took place — is about 50 feet (15 meters) from a mosque that is still standing,” said Colonel John J. Thomas, spokesman for the US Central Command.

According to a Centcom statement: “US forces conducted an air strike on an Al-Qaeda in Syria meeting location March 16 in Idlib, Syria, killing several terrorists.”

The Centcom spokesman later clarified that the precise location of the strike was unclear — but that it was the same one widely reported to have hit the village mosque in Al-Jineh.

“We are going to look into any allegations of civilian casualties in relation to this strike,” he added.

The US-led coalition has been bombing jihadist groups in the war-torn country since 2014. It has struck dozens of locations in northwestern Syria in the past, targeting al-Qaeda-linked militants.

The village is in a rebel-held area, but the Observatory said no jihadist factions are present.

An AFP correspondent saw rescue workers in white helmets working under spotlights with picks and shovels late on Thursday to dig people out of the rubble.

Much of the mosque, identified by a black placard outside as a mosque, had been flattened.

The empty prayer hall was covered in debris, and rescue workers stepped through it carefully, deliberating how to break down a wall to search for more survivors.

Rescuers had earlier left the wreckage site but were forced to double back when they heard moaning coming from the rubble.

“More than 100 people were wounded,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said on Thursday, adding that many were still trapped under the collapsed mosque.