The UN’s human rights chief has appealed for more careful selection of military targets after a fresh wave of air strikes against Islamic State (IS) in eastern Syria reportedly killed at least 35 civilians, including women and children.
Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said civilians are increasingly paying the price of escalating attacks against IS in the country. His comments came hours after air strikes on the IS-held eastern Syrian town of Mayadeen, where air strikes on Thursday night killed dozens of people, many of them family members of IS fighters.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the air strikes were conducted by the US-led coalition fighting IS. It added that the air strikes began around sunset on Thursday as people were heading to mosques for evening prayers, and continued until the early hours of Friday.
Mr al-Hussein said: “The same civilians who are suffering indiscriminate shelling and summary executions by IS, are also falling victim to the escalating air strikes, particularly in the north-eastern governorates of Raqqa and Deir el-Zour.
“Unfortunately, scant attention is being paid by the outside world to the appalling predicament of the civilians trapped in these areas.”
Mr al-Hussein urged all parties conducting strikes against IS in Syria to take greater care differentiating between military and civilian targets. He cited a May 14 strike which reportedly killed 23 farm workers in a rural area of Raqqa province and an air strike the following day that is said to have killed at least 59 civilians and wounded dozens in the IS-controlled eastern town of Boukamal, also in in Deir el-Zour province.
Mr al-Hussein, who is a member of the Jordanian royal family, said the rising toll of civilian casualties suggests “insufficient precautions” are being taken in the attacks. He said he was concerned about retaliatory measures taken by IS against civilians suspected of facilitating the air strikes and reports that civilians were being prevented from leaving IS-controlled areas.
The day after the incident at Boukamal, IS fighters reportedly slit the throats of eight men at the site of the attack, accusing them of providing coordinates for the strikes. The air strikes came as the US military said it killed three IS fighters in attacks in Syria and Iraq over the past month.
The Observatory later said a total of 106 people have been killed in Mayadeen since Thursday evening, including IS fighters and 42 children. The monitoring group said among the 106 were 80 people who perished when a four-storey building housing families of IS fighters from Syria and north Africa was destroyed in an air strike.
More than 20, including 10 IS fighters, were killed in other air strikes which hit the municipality building among other places. Syria’s state news agency SANA also said 35 civilians, most of them women and children, were killed in the air strikes, also blaming the coalition.
There was no immediate comment from the coalition. It is not unusual to have conflicting casualty figures in the immediate aftermath of air strikes in Syria. Reports of deaths among civilians have been on the rise as the fighting against IS intensifies in northern and eastern Syria.
Omar Abu Laila, a Europe-based opposition activist who is originally from eastern Syria, said Mayadeen residents were urged through mosque loudspeakers to head to hospitals and clinics to donate blood. He also said that more air strikes occurred in the early hours of Friday. He added that about a dozen people were killed and that he is still waiting for casualty figures to emerge following the destruction of the building housing families of IS fighters.
The US Central Command meanwhile released a statement describing the three IS members killed by the US-led coalition over the past month as senior military officials and planners. It said one was a Syria-based “facilitator” from Turkey, who was killed in an air strike in Syria on April 27. He was described as an IS recruiter in the central Turkish city of Konya.
Another was described as a French-Algerian IS fighter based in Syria. He was killed by an air strike in Syria on May 11. The third was killed near the Iraqi city of al-Qaim on May 18.
Central Command said he was an IS military official who operated in Iraq’s Anbar province.