PHOTO: Aftermath of regime bombing of Islamic State-held Raqqa on Tuesday
The Assad regime has sharply attacked claims, including from the US Government, that it killed scores of civilians in airstrikes on Raqqa in northern Syria on Tuesday.
Local activists said at least 90 people died in nine attacks on the city, held by the Islamic State since late 2013. It is unclear how many of the slain were civilians and how many were Islamic State fighters.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, “We are horrified by the reports that the Assad regime’s airstrikes yesterday in Raqqa, Syria killed dozens of civilians and demolished residential areas.” She added that President Assad had lost his right to rule and should be held accountable for the attacks.
Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi responded on Thursday that reports of the Raqqa deaths were “lies mentioned by the Islamic State on its websites”.
He insisted that the Syrian military never targets civilians: “The Syrian State is more committed to its people than those who send weapon, money and train terrorists in several countries.”
As for Washington’s statement, al-Zoubi said, “It is an attempt by the US State Department to push the world to disregard terrorism crimes through directing incorrect accusations against the Syrian State in the interest of those terrorist organizations.”
The Violations Documentation Center has documented the killing of almost 78,000 civilians in the 44-month conflict. The United Nations estimated in August that the death toll was near 200,000.
Video: Mosque Service in Idlib Province Disrupted by Bomb
The moment that a Friday service in a mosque in Idlib Province was rocked by a nearby bomb:
Jabhat al-Nusra Clashes With Free Syria Army in Idlib Province
Multiple reports indicate that the Islamist faction Jabhat al-Nusra has fought with Free Syrian Army-affilated battalions in Idlib Province in northwest Syria.
Smart News Agency said Jabhat al-Nusra captured a town in the Jabal al-Zawiya area, as it continued to move against the Syrian Revolutionary Front.
The SRF, which has been backed by the US, sparked fighting last month when it raided villages after some of its members defected to another faction. Jabhat al-Nusra hit back, driving the SRF from its main positions in the province and forcing its leader, Jamal Maarouf, to retreat into Turkey.
Abu Azzam al-Ansari, a member of Jabhat al-Nusra’s media office in Idlib, confirmed the latest fighting, blaming the FSA-affiliated battalions: “After they assaulted and killed Nusra fighters, they became a legitimate target for us. The people of [the town of] Marzeita greeted the mujahidin [Jabhat al-Nusra fighters] with great joy and praise to God.”
A battalion leader said, “We withdrew from Marzeita to prevent bloodshed.”
Video: Islamic State Welcomes Back Al-Shaitat Tribe to Deir Ez Zor, After Killing 100s of Them
In a video posted on Wednesday, the Islamic State-affiliated Euphrates News Agency has exalted the return of members of the al-Shaitat tribe to their village in eastern Syria, three months after the jihadists reportedly killed up to 700 of them.
One tribesman absolves the Islamic State of responsibility: “Since the beginning, we didn’t do anything; the trouble was caused by saboteurs and oil traders and thieves who dispersed the Shaitat.”
A member of the Islamic State proclaims, “We, your brothers in the Islamic State, bless and celebrate the return of our brothers from the Shaitat tribe.”
In August, the Islamic State reportedly killed up to 700 of the tribe, expelling them from their homes after members rose up against the jihadist rule of the area.
An Islamic State commander in Deir Ez Zor said in early November that IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had ordered that members of could return home. Any returnees had to turn over weapons and admit that those who fought the jihadists are “apostates”.