PHOTO: Claimed image of men carrying young victims of US bombing of Manbij last week
The Islamic State and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces are discussing a limited evacuation deal over the ISIS-held city of Manbij, surrounded by the SDF, in Syria’s Aleppo Province.
ISIS has proposed the passage of critically-ill civilians to SDF-controlled areas in return for wounded Islamic fighters being transported out of Manbij, the target of an SDF offensive and US airstrikes since May.
However, an SDF spokesman said the Islamic State rejected an offer of safe withdrawal if they gave up the city, which they have held since early 2014.
An estimated 50,000 civilians are believed to be in Manbij.
On Monday and Tuesday, scores were killed in US airstrikes in and near the city, including on a school that housed displaced Syrians. Up to 160 civilians were slain, said activists, and some unconfirmed reports gave an even higher toll.
The SDF quickly cut off Manbij after the launch of its offensive, but has struggled to advance within the city.
On Thursday, the SDF-allied Manbij Military Council said Islamic State fighters had 48 hours to withdraw with light weapons.
Council spokesman Sharfan Darwish said early Saturday:
The deadline is approaching, time is almost up…and the battles are continuing. As far as we’re concerned, the situation has not changed. Our steps towards liberating Manbij are going ahead.
US Plays Down Civilian Deaths, Strikes to Continue
On Friday, the spokesman for the US-led coalition, Colonel Christopher Garver played down the civilian deaths from airstrikes, saying that any of them might be attributable to the Islamic State’s use of civilians as human shields or people “mixed in or among the Daesh fighters”.
Garver said Tuesday’s airstrikes on Tuesday occurred US allies on the ground observed a convoy with a substantial numbers of ISIS fighters “who appeared to be readying for a counterattack against SAC [US-aligned Syrian Arab Coalition] troops in the area, and a strike was called in on Daesh. The strike was against both buildings and vehicles.”
The Colonel said the US does not have a clear picture on the civilian death toll. He declared that “internal” sources were “concerned about between 10 or 20″, though there was a “kind of a wild speculation toward 73” dead civilians in the press.
The UK-based group AirWars provided the names of approximately 73 people, grouped by their families, whom local sources said were killed. It says that there could be up to 203 victims.
Garver told the Kurdish outlet ARA News that strikes will continue:
The Coalition will not reduce the use of air strike capabilities in the campaign to defeat ISIL [the Islamic State]. Coalition airstrikes are the most precise in the history of warfare.
Mitigating civilian casualties is a key component of the air campaign and is why we use precision weapons. We take great care, from analysis of available intelligence to selection of the appropriate weapons to meet mission requirements to minimize the risk of collateral damage, particularly any potential harm to civilians….
“U.S. and Coalition forces comply with the Law of Armed Conflict and take all feasible precautions during the planning and execution of airstrikes to reduce the risk of harm to non-combatants.
The opposition Syrian National Coalition has demanded an immediate suspension of aerial operations pending a thorough inquiry into the civilian deaths.
“It is essential that such an investigation not only results in revised rules of procedure for future operations, but also informs accountability for those responsible for such major violations,” the Coalition said in a letter to foreign ministers of the anti-ISIS coalition.
Regime and Hezbollah Renew Shelling of Zabadani
The Syrian military and Hezbollah have renewed shelling of the besieged town of Zabadani, northwest of Damascus, according to activists and the Qasioun News Agency.
Claims are circulating that the pro-Assad forces have sealed off all roads in the area.
A regime-Hezbollah offensive from last July, with daily bombardment and airstrikes, tried for almost three months to capture Zabadani. A truce was eventually agreed, with some residents and rebels leaving the town, but the siege has continued.
Russia-Regime Bombing Targets 6 Hospitals in 24 Hours
Russian and regime warplanes have targeted six hospitals within 24 hours in Aleppo Provinces.
Syria’s White Helmets civil defense organization issued a statement on the effect on medical provisions, with scores of people already being killed on a daily basis by the Russian-regime bombing.
6 medical facilities targeted in 24 hours in Aleppo City. Below statement predicts effect of +200 deaths/day pic.twitter.com/LuKdJ3EZAp
— The White Helmets (@SyriaCivilDef) July 24, 2016
The latest attacks included the Hakim, Zahra, Bayan, and Daqaq field hospitals in Aleppo city, a blood bank in the Sha’ar district, and the field hospital in Atareb to the west of the city.
An Aleppo-based activist said an infant was among those killed.
The Red Cross expressed its concern:
— ICRC Syria (@ICRC_sy) July 24, 2016
Since Russia’s aerial intervention last September, scores of hospitals, clinics, drugs warehouses, blood banks, and civil defense buildings have been destroyed or damaged.
The Local Coordination Committees documented the deaths of 121 people across Syria on Saturday, including 28 women and 19 children.
Almost 60 of the deaths were in and near Aleppo city. There were also 24 deaths near Damascus and 17 in opposition-held Idlib Province, most of them in the city of Jisr al-Shughour.