War on Isis: Russian and Syrian bombing raids 'kill 43 children' around Deir ez-Zor

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights say as many as 164 civilians killed in raids targeting town in the east of Syria

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The Independent Online

Intense Russian and Syrian bombing raids that have bolstered the flagging regime of Bashar al-Assad are claimed to have killed scores of children and civilians in recent days. 

Backed by Russian airstrikes, Syrian government troops seized Rabiya in Latakia province on Sunday, a key rebel-held town which will allow them to cut off supply lines to groups fighting to topple the Assad regime. 

But to the east, reports from the town of Deir ez-Zor indicated that in recent days as many as 164 civilians have been killed in the countryside around the town amid Russian and Syrian bombing raids. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said scores of people, including 43 children, were killed after three days of intense bombing targeting Isis positions. 

Isis has been fighting for control of the area near its de facto capital in nearby Raqqa, about 60 miles away, and on routes towards the Iraqi border. The attacks follow claims that Isis has overrun the area in recent weeks, gaining several villages. There have also been unconfirmed reports of hundreds of residents of Deir ez-Zor being killed or kidnapped by the Islamist group.

To the west, the capture of Rabiya, along with the nearby town of Salma which was taken earlier this month, allows Syrian troops to push north towards the Turkish border where opposition groups muster many of their supplies. The government has made gains in the area – one of its key objectives – since Moscow’s warplanes began bombing anti-Assad groups in September.

The SOHR described Rabiya as the “second-most important base for [opposition] fighters in the northern Latakia countryside”. It said the victory came after “violent clashes against Islamic battalions backed by Jabhat al-Nusra amid aerial bombardment by Russian and Syrian warplane[s]”. The fall of Rabiya comes days before multilateral peace talks on Syria are due to begin in Geneva. They were scheduled to start today, but have been delayed amid arguments over which groups are represented.

The negotiations are designed to work towards a long-term settlement for the war-torn country, but will be complicated anger expressed at the ever-growing number of civilian casualties.