Beirut: At least 53 civilians, including 21 kids, perished early Sunday morning when Russian air strikes hit “residential buildings” in a village held by the Islamic State group in eastern Syria, a monitor said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the strikes hit the village of Al-Shafah in Deir Ezzor region, on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River.
The Observatory uses the network of sources inside Syria and says it pinpoints whose aircraft perform raids according to type, location, flight patterns and munitions used.
The monitor had at first given a death toll of 34 civilians however the number spiked after more bodies were recovered.
“The toll increased after removing the debris in a long day of the rescue operation,” Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told AFP, adding the strikes hit “residential buildings”.
Around 18 individuals were also injured in the air raids, he added.
Russia is a close ally of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, and in Sept 2015 started a military intervention supporting his government that has steadily helped Damascus regain territory.
Syria’s Deir Ezzor is among the last places Islamic State jihadists hold territory in the country, after being driven from their major strongholds including their one-time de facto Syrian capital Raqa city.
The oil-rich eastern province that borders Iraq was once almost completely under Islamic State control, however, the jihadists now hold 9 % of Deir Ezzor, based on the Observatory.
They have faced 2 separate offensives there, one led by the regime with Russian assistance and the other by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters.
More than 340,000 individuals have been killed in Syria since the clash started in March 2011 with anti-government protests.
Russia in driving seat
The most recent strikes come as the US tries to revitalize its flagging efforts to get rid of a six-year civil war which has left Syria devastated and huge swathes of its population refugees.
On Tuesday, the 8th round of UN-brokered talks will kick off.
They have achieved little up to now but could be bolstered by the opposition’s decision to bring a unified delegation to Geneva for the 1st time.
For progress to occur rival sides will need to defeat the challenge that has derailed previous discussions: the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
He retains Moscow’s support but is loathed by a lot of Syria’s rebel opposition who want him gone.
Backed by Russia’s decisive military support, Assad’s government has regained control of 55 % of the country, including major cities Damascus, Aleppo, Hama, and homs, and about two-thirds of the people lives in regime-held areas.
The rest is carved up between rebel factions, jihadists, and Kurdish forces.
Some experts think that Russia has clearly put itself in the driver’s seat in recent months, especially as US President Donald Trump’s administration has pulled back from Syrian diplomatic front.
Russia, fellow regime ally Iran and rebel-backer Turkey have hosted negotiations in the Kazakh capital Astana that resulted in the creation of four “de-escalation zones” which produced a drop in violence, though lethal air strikes and fights keep going in some areas.
And this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for a “congress” of Syrian regime and opposition figures, a move backed by Tehran and Ankara.