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    Wednesday, May 24, 2017

    16 civilians were killed in bombing raids by the US-led coalition in Raqa

    At least 16 civilians were killed in bombing raids early Wednesday by the US-led coalition near the Islamic State group’s Syrian bastion Raqa, a monitor said.


    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the toll included a woman and her five children, as well as three couples.
    “The coalition strikes hit Al-Baruda, a village about 15 kilometres (10 miles) west of Raqa city,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman. “Most of those killed had fled eastern parts of the province of Homs,” he added. The US-led coalition is providing air cover for a major offensive to capture Raqa city, the heart of IS territory in Syria.
    As of Wednesday, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were only three kilometres (two miles) from Raqa at their closest point to the east. The strikes on Al-Baruda come after the Observatory reported the highest monthly civilian death toll for the coalition since it began bombing Syria on September 23, 2014.  Between April 23 and May 23 of this year, coalition strikes killed a total of 225 civilians in Syria, the Britain-based Observatory said.
    Earlier this month, the US military said that coalition air strikes in Iraq and Syria had “unintentionally” killed a total of 352 civilians since 2014.
    More than 320,000 people have been killed and millions more displaced since Syria’s conflict broke out in March 2011.  Meanwhile, dozens of young men gathered Tuesday in a school yard in northern Syria to take the oath at a police graduation ceremony after a week’s training supervised by the US-led coalition.
    They were the first batch of policemen to be trained by the coalition to maintain law and order in Raqa, as a Kurdish-Arab alliance battles to expel the Islamic State group from the rest of the northern province. Police officers disappeared from Raqa after the province was taken over by rebels then IS after the Syrian conflict broke out in 2011. Dressed in green uniforms, the graduates stood to attention in the town of Ain Issa, a former IS stronghold around 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of the city of Raqa, the militants’ de facto Syrian capital. On their arms, their wore light blue patches bearing the image of an eagle with its wings spread and the words “Raqa Internal Security Force”.
    “I swear to God to be loyal to my nation, my people and my country and to fulfil my duty,” they said, right arms stretched out in front of them. They took the oath before members of a civilian council to administer Raqa city and the surrounding province after IS, before each receiving a Kalashnikov assault rifle.
    “Fifty young men from the Raqa province followed a seven-day training course under the supervision of US and Jordanian officers,” said a spokesman for the nascent Raqa Civilian Council. “The second group will start training next week. The aim is to train 3,000 young men to guarantee security and stability in liberated areas of the Raqa province,” Omar Alloush said.
    The coalition, which has been fighting IS in Syria and neighbouring Iraq since 2014, is in charge of training the policemen and providing them with equipment, he said. A Jordanian instructor, who asked to remain anonymous, said all the graduates had received “intensive training on how to conduct patrols, diffuse disputes, deal with car bombs and suicide bombers, and how to man a checkpoint”.
    Backed by the coalition, the Syrian Democratic Forces launched an offensive to capture Raqa city in November.
    Last month, the SDF alliance announced the creation of the civilian council to administer the city after its capture.
    All members of the new security force are Arabs, as they will have to police Raqa city, whose population is mostly Sunni Arab after its Kurdish minority fled when IS overran the provincial capital in 2014.
    Some previously belonged to the Kurdish Asayesh security forces, while others returned to the province after the SDF retook parts of it from the militants.
    “I was working in Lebanon. I came back after my village was liberated to help maintain security,” said Qamar al-Madan, a 23-year-old from Tal Assamen.
    “The bloodshed needs to stop, as does the age of oppression under Daesh,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.
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