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Reports: Dozens Of Civilians Killed In U.S-Led Coalition Strike In Syria

Syria's main opposition group is calling for the U.S.-led coalition to suspend its airstrike campaign against ISIS after reports of dozens of civilian deaths close to the Turkish border.

As NPR's Alison Meuse told our Newscast unit, reports suggest the strike near the northern town of Manbij is the "largest civilian death toll since the intervention began." She added that "both the opposition and [Syrian President Bashar] Assad's regime put the death toll above 120 killed." Here's more from Alison:

"Exact figures are hard to come by: it's a war zone and ISIS restricts communications. But I reached a man whose family lives near the area in question. He sent me photos of what appeared to be a mass burial. I counted eight corpses, but he says 73 were laid to rest. The Syrian government and opposition put the toll at over 120. Local U.S.-backed forces say it's a vast exaggeration."

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the toll from the airstrikes is at least 56, including 11 children.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter has promised a "transparent investigation into possible civilian deaths," as Alison reports. The coalition has said that it carried out airstrikes in the area on Tuesday, the day reports of civilian casualties started to emerge.

It's not clear whose planes carried out the deadly strikes. The Syrian government blames France in a statement reported on state media, while other sources refer simply to "U.S.-led coalition" planes, without elaborating.

In a statement, the president of the Syrian opposition coalition, Anas Alabdah, said the bloodshed indicates "a major loophole in the current operational rules followed by the international coalition in conducting strikes in populated areas."

He added: "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."

Meanwhile, fighting rages in the nearby city of Manbij between U.S- backed fighters and Islamic State militants. A BBC report from Manbij released today shows Kurdish-led fighters backed by U.S. air support encircling the area.

"The Syrian Democratic Forces are advancing into Manbij City from the south, and as you can see here, the fight against the IS group is street by street and house by house," reporter Feras Kilani said. He added that the Islamic State has used the city as a "key meeting point for its foreign fighters."

Now, the forces fighting ISIS have given the extremist group a deadline of 48 hours to leave the besieged city, The Associated Press reported.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.