Scores of Arab villagers died in airstrikes Thursday in northeast Syria, and local media activists charged Saturday that the U.S.-led coalition was responsible.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britian-based group that monitors violence in Syria, said 55 villagers died in what it condemned as a “massacre committed by the U.S.-led coalition under the pretext of targeting the Islamic State.”
McClatchy obtained a list with the names of 10 families that reportedly had lost 64 members in the strike.
And the Syrian Opposition Coalition, the Istanbul-based group once recognized by the United States as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, said the information it had received lent “credence to reports that it was a U.S.-led coalition strike that caused the civilian casualties.”
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The U.S. Central Command could not immediately confirm that Bir Mahalli, which lies about 33 miles south of Kobani, had been targeted for airstrikes Thursday. A statement from Centcom said U.S. aircraft struck six targets between 8 a.m. Thursday and 8 a.m. Friday “near Kobani” – a description that previous reporting has shown could include a location 30 miles or more distant.
The reported deaths of the villagers also embroiled the United States in Syria’s fierce ethnic rivalries, with activists pointing out that the fishing and farming village of about 4,000 Arabs has had tense relations with Kurds living nearby – especially with the Kurdish “People’s Protection Units” or YPG.
The Obama administration cooperated with the YPG in defense of Kobani, which Arabs call Ein al Arab, and there have been reports that the U.S.-led coalition continues to work with the YPG in the fight against the Islamic State.
But the activists said the YPG also is capturing villages inhabited by Arabs in an effort to pressure them to flee the area and has falsely accused Arabs in the area of supporting the Islamic State.
An activist from the area said local villagers were certain that the attack was by coalition aircraft because of the sound of the planes and the kind of bombs deployed. The activist, who spoke to McClatchy by Skype on condition of anonymity out of fear of both the YPG and the Islamic State, said the coalition may have received flawed intelligence about the target from its allies on the ground, a reference to YPG forces.
“ Kurdish hostility towards Arabs in the area has been pretty clear for a long time,” the activist said. “Otherwise, how would you explain the Kurds burning Arab houses under their own control?”
He added that the coalition had bombed a bridge at the town of Karakozak some months ago that he said was the only crossing over the Euphrates River in the area. The bridge’s destruction had “put the whole area under siege.”
McClatchy reported in January that U.S. aircraft had killed more than 50 civilians when they targeted a building in the town of al Bab that the Islamic State had turned into a prison for local civilians. The Central Command has yet to respond definitively to the allegations.
“We currently have no information to corroborate allegations that coalition airstrikes resulted in civilian casualties,” Col. Patrick S. Ryder, the Central Command spokesman, told McClatchy in an email Saturday. “Regardless, we take all allegations seriously and will look into them further.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect Arabic name for Kobani.