Deaths as Assad war plane ‘hits Syrian market’

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Government air raids in a north-western town in Syria and a subsequent crash by a Syrian warplane that slammed into a residential area there killed at least 27 people, activists said.

The raids on the town of Ariha came amid intense clashes between government forces and insurgents in the north-western province of Idlib and the central region of Hama.

The town, once a government stronghold, was captured by opposition fighters and Islamist militants in May. Government forces have suffered setbacks in Idlib province since March, including the loss of the provincial capital of the same name.

An activist group known as the Local Coordination Committees (LCC) said the warplane crashed in a busy market, adding that it was not immediately clear whether it was shot down. The LCC said 27 people were killed and many others were wounded.

Rami Abdurrahman, who heads another activist group, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the plane crashed in the town centre, destroying several homes. The observatory later said that 31 people were killed and more than 60 were wounded.

The Ariha Today Facebook page posted a photograph showing at least seven buildings reduced to rubble on a narrow street. It said 27 people were killed but that 12 of them have not been identified yet.

The group also listed 55 wounded, including nine women.

The observatory and the LCC said that at the time of the crash, the town was under attack by Syrian president Bashar Assad’s air force.

An amateur video posted online by activists showed several damaged buildings, as well as parts of the plane that crashed.

Syria’s civil war began in March 2011. UN chief Ban Ki-moon said last week that at least 250,000 Syrians have been killed in the conflict so far.

Meanwhile, bombings carried out by the US-led coalition targeting the Islamic State group are likely to have killed hundreds of civilians, an independent monitoring group said.

The report by Airwars, a project aimed at tracking the international air strikes on IS, says it counted at least 459 suspected civilian fatalities in 57 strikes it believes the coalition carried out in Iraq and Syria over the last year.

It added that the same air strikes also caused at least 48 suspected “friendly fire” deaths.

The report said efforts to limit the risk to civilians are hampered by an absence of effective transparency and accountability from nearly all coalition members.

So far, the US has acknowledged killing two civilians in its strikes.

The coalition made no immediate comment on the report.

The US launched air strikes in Iraq on August 8 last year and in Syria on September 23 to target IS. A coalition of countries later joined to help allied ground forces in both countries defeat the extremists.

To date, the coalition has launched more than 5,800 air strikes in both countries.

The two civilian deaths the US has acknowledged were children killed in an air strike targeting al-Qaida-linked militants in Syria last year. That same strike also injured two adults, according to an investigation by the US military.

That strike is the subject of one of at least four ongoing US military investigations into allegations of civilian casualties resulting from the air strikes.