US-led coalition air strikes are believed to have killed at least 77 civilians in northern Syria, prompting demands from Syrian opposition leaders to halt the strikes, which are meant to hit Isis fighters.
At least 56 civilians were killed in strikes in Toukhan, north of the Isis stronghold of Manbij on Tuesday, and 21 were killed in air strikes on Manbij itself on Monday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.
Director of the Observatory, Rami Abdel-Rahman, told German news agency DPA: “We believe that the raids, which were carried out Tuesday, were by US [or] allied planes but it was by mistake.” The Observatory said the dead from Tuesday's air strike included 11 children.
The president of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, Anas al-Abdah, called for a suspension on the US-coordinated air strikes while the deaths are investigated, and warned that civilian casualties at the hands of the US-led air campaign would “prove to be a recruitment tool for terrorist organisations.”
In a letter to foreign ministers working with the US-led intervention, Mr Abdah said: “It is essential that such investigation not only result in revised rules of procedure for future operations, but also inform accountability for those responsible for such major violations.”
The total number of civilians killed in strikes near Manbij since May stands at 167, according to the Syrian Observatory.
Syria’s foreign ministry has claimed that Tuesday’s air strike on Toukhar was carried out by French warplanes, while it claimed Monday’s attack was by the US.
In a letter to the UN, the Syrian government said: “[Syria] condemns, in the strongest terms, the two bloody massacres perpetrated by the French and US warplanes and those affiliated to the so-called international coalition, which send their missiles and bombs to the civilians instead of directing them to the terrorist gangs.”
A spokesman for the US-led alliance said there were “multiple national aircraft providing strikes in Manbij. So how the Syrian government knows who conducted what strike, I question.”
US Defence Secretary Ash Carter has said that the US-led force would look into the reports of civilian casualties around Manbij.
French President Francois Hollande said he had no precise information on whether French planes were responsible for the Toukhar air strike. “We are striking in the framework of the coalition and are very careful in our strikes,” he said.
The air strikes in the area are aimed at supporting a ground operation by the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish and Arab alliance which is trying to drive Isis out of Manbij.
A local military council allied to the SDF, which has captured part of Manbij after weeks of fighting, has set Isis fighters a 48-hour deadline beginning Thursday to leave the city.
Manbij is in the northern province of Aleppo, which forms a theatre for several separate battles between multiple warring sides in Syria's five-year-old conflict.
Kurdish gains have alarmed rebel forces battling the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, who say they will respond with force to any attempt to break up Syria.
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