November 25, 2014 / 8:34 PM / 3 years ago

Syrian government air strikes kill 63 in Raqqa: monitoring group

BEIRUT (Reuters) - At least 63 people, half of them civilians, were killed when Syrian war planes struck the northeastern city of Raqqa on Tuesday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war in Syria.

Smoke rises after what activists said were airstrikes by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Raqqa, eastern Syria, which is controlled by the Islamic State November 25, 2014. REUTERS/Nour Fourat

Syrian government officials were not immediately available for comment.

Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the Britain-based Observatory, said 10 war planes struck at least 10 times in Raqqa, a stronghold of the ultra-hardline group Islamic State.

“The majority of the strikes were in the eastern part of the city,” Abdulrahman said, quoting residents and activists in the city. “At least 36 of those killed are civilians. As for the rest, we are not sure yet if they were fighters.”

Islamic State, which has seized wide expanses of territory in Iraq and Syria, drove the last Syrian government forces out of Raqqa province in late August. Its fighters seized an air base then, capturing and later executing scores of Syrian soldiers.

Raqqa has been the target of several air strikes by a U.S.-led coalition aimed at weakening and destroying the ultra-hardline group in Iraq and Syria. A U.S. official said the coalition did not carry out any air strikes on Raqqa in the last 24 hours.

An Islamic State fighter in the province confirmed that the government carried out the air strikes, which he said killed at least 70 people.

The Syrian air force has increased its strikes across Syria since the U.S.-led coalition started attacking Islamic State positions inside Syria in September.

Analysts say the increase could be because the Syrian military wants to weaken rebel groups before they get training and equipment promised by the United States.

Reporting by Mariam Karouny; Aditional reporting by Phillip Stewart; Editing by Larry King and Cynthia Osterman

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