At least 41 civilians, including some ten children, have been killed as a result of the US-led coalition last Thursday and Friday, which targeted a mosque in the town of Al-Susah in eastern Syria.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) confirmed the death toll yesterday, stating that many of those killed were Iraqi relatives of Daesh fighters, although some reports have put the figure closer 70. Many of the dead are still trapped under the rubble of Masjid Al-Uthman, which was shelled during the Friday congregational prayers, and neighbouring houses.
Some 22 militants were also killed in the blast; the US alleges that the mosque was being used as a base by Daesh operatives as they continue to resist the combined assault by the coalition and US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the province of Deir Ez-Zor.
Coalition spokesman Colonel Sean Ryan defended the decision, despite the mosque having been bombed at a popular time for civilians: “Such Daesh misuse of the mosque is another example of their violation of the law of war and made the mosque a valid military target,” he told reporters.
He added that the coalition monitored the facility to know when only fighters were present, and it investigates “all credible allegations of civilian casualties”.
An aerial and ground campaign conducted by the SDF and the US-led coalition on the eastern banks of the Euphrates River, was launched last month to tackle a pocket of Daesh militants in the Al-Shafah and Hajin area. According to the SOHR, fighting has killed 414 militants and 227 SDF fighters in total since the assault began on 10 September.
The international coalition’s campaign also coincides with an operation by the Syrian regime of President Bashar Al-Assad, backed by the Russian airforce, in ousting Daesh from a pocket in the desert of Suwaida, with government forces noting several casualties over the past month.
The Syrian regime, which deems the US and international forces in Syria occupiers, condemned the recent air strikes, accusing the coalition of relentless bombing and called on the United Nations to “punish the aggressors”.
Human rights groups have also criticised the bombing campaign. After a damning report by Amnesty International on the aftermath of the battle for Raqqa was dismissed by participating governments, the international rights groups warned in July that the US-led coalition is in denial of the extent of civilian casualties caused by its bombing campaign in the city.
The Coalition’s knee-jerk reactions are long on rhetoric and short on detail. They lay bare how deeply in denial the Coalition leadership is about its failure to protect civilians caught in conflict
Donatella Rovera, Senior Crisis Response Advisor at Amnesty International said at the time.
The coalition has acknowledged only 23 civilian deaths resulting from the more than 30,000 artillery rounds and several thousand air strikes it launched into Raqqa city during its four-month military campaign from June to October 2017 against Daesh fighters; Amnesty puts the death toll in the hundreds.
The US has previously stated it will not withdraw its forces from Syria until peace is fully achieved throughout the country.