BEIRUT, Sept 8, (Agencies): Syrian government warplanes killed at least 60 civilians including a dozen children in two days of air strikes on Islamic State-held territory at the weekend, activists said on Monday. President Bashar al-Assad’s military has stepped up an aerial campaign over the last three months against Islamic State, an al-Qaeda offshoot that controls about a third of Syria’s territory, much of it desert in the north and east.
The air strikes have hit a number of Islamic State targets but have also killed many civilians in territory under the group’s control. The death toll included 41 killed during air strikes on Saturday that hit a bakery run by Islamic State in their stronghold of Raqqa city in the north, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Another 19 civilians were killed in the eastern Deir al-Zor province, which borders Iraq and, like Raqqa province, is almost entirely controlled by Islamic State militants.
The Observatory, which monitors violence in Syria through a network of sources on both sides, did not say how many militants were killed in the strikes, but in an earlier report it said at least 15 had been killed in the Raqqa strikes. One Raqqa-based activist told Reuters the dead from the bombardment included eight members of one family, that of Khaled al-Haj Omar, and four from another family whose remains have not been found.
The youngest was 7-year-old Ibrahim al-Abed, he said. Among the women killed were Ayesha Hassan, 60, and 18-year-old Zeina al-Ahmad, the activist said. Confrontations between Islamic State militants and Assad’s forces have escalated sharply since the Islamists made lightning advances against Iraqi government forces in June and declared it was establishing a caliphate in territory it controls on both sides of the border. Since then Islamic State has killed hundreds of Syrian government forces and seized three military bases in Raqqa province.
Syria’s air force has bombed the group’s positions, even as US warplanes strike the group on the other side of the border in Iraq. Meanwhile, UN envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura will begin his first visit to Damascus on Tuesday to try to kick-start peace talks that have twice foundered under the United Nations.
De Mistura will travel with Deputy Envoy Ramzy Ezzedine Ramzy for the first round of meetings with Syrian officials since taking up the mission this month, a UN statement said. The Syrian Al-Watan newspaper, which is close to the government, reported that the envoys will hold three days of talks on “prospects for a solution” to the conflict that has raged since March 2011. While in Damascus, de Mistura will also meet representatives of opposition groups tolerated by the regime, Al-Watan said. It was not known whether a meeting with Assad was planned.