Syrian rebel group says U.S.-led coalition behind mosque strike

by Reuters
Friday, 17 March 2017 10:38 GMT

* Dozens dead in al-Jina village mosque, western Aleppo

* U.S. targeting al Qaeda in nearby Idlib province

* Syria, Russia also conducting airstrikes in Idlib

BEIRUT, March 17 (Reuters) - Ahrar al-Sham, a powerful Syrian rebel group, on Friday said the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State was behind a deadly mosque attack near Syria's Aleppo that a war monitor said killed dozens of people on Thursday evening.

Jets hit around a mosque in al-Jina village near Atarib in the western part of Aleppo province, a few miles (km) from Idlib province on Thursday, killing at least 46 people, mostly civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The U.S. military said it carried out an air strike on Thursday against al Qaeda militants at a meeting location in Idlib province, but it was not clear if it was referring to the attack in Jina.

Airstrikes in the area have been conducted by the United States, rather than the international coalition it leads against Islamic State, which operates further to the east. A spate of U.S. airstrikes in northwest Syria since early this year have targeted groups that have been linked to al Qaeda.

Syrian military and Russian jets have also carried out numerous air strikes against targets in Idlib and western parts of Aleppo province, which are held by rebels seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

Ahrar al-Sham, a hardline Islamist group that has fought alongside nationalist factions under the banner of the Free Syrian Army, has been involved in clashes this year with jihadist groups that Washington has targeted.

Ahrar al-Sham is also widely believed to be backed by Turkey and other regional states that support the rebellion against Assad. It said attacks on mosques and places of worship are considered a war crime in most legal codes.

(Reporting By Angus McDowall; Editing by Julia Glover)

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