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Opposition wants probe of deaths in Aleppo airstrike.

Summary: Syria's opposition National Coalition is demanding an investigation into a U.S.-led coalition strike last week that allegedly killed 64 civilians, nearly half of them children, in northern Syria.

BEIRUT: Syria's opposition National Coalition is demanding an investigation into a U.S.-led coalition strike last week that allegedly killed 64 civilians, nearly half of them children, in northern Syria.

The U.S. military Sunday acknowledged coalition strikes in the Bir Mahli area but said it was unaware of any civilian deaths.

The Coalition, based in Turkey, said it could not be certain who carried out the raids on Bir Mahli but that the available information "lends credence to reports that it was a U.S.-led coalition airstrike."

"It is absolutely vital, therefore, that such reports are taken seriously and a full investigation into the incident is carried out immediately," Coalition spokesman Salem al-Meslet said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the strikes in the village in Aleppo province overnight Friday needed to be investigated. "We call for a serious investigation into what happened with the strikes on Bir Mahli, because this is a massacre," Observatory director Rami Abdel-Rahman said.

The Observatory reported Saturday that the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS killed dozens of civilians in strikes on Bir Mahli between April 30 and May 1. On Monday, Abdel-Rahman said the toll had risen to 64 civilians, including 19 women, 16 girls and 15 boys, with no ISIS fighters among the dead.

The Observatory relies on a broad network of sources, who Abdel-Rahman said are able to identify airstrikes by the coalition.

A U.S. military spokesman, Maj. Curtis Kellogg, said that 50 ISIS fighters had been killed but "we currently have no indication that any civilians were killed in these strikes."

Kellogg said that prior to the airstrikes, Kurdish forces in the area said the village had been emptied of civilians for at least two weeks.

Abdel-Rahman said Kurdish militiamen and Syrian rebel fighters based nearby had given the coalition inaccurate information regarding ISIS positions in Bir Mahli. "They told the coalition that there was a convoy of 10 ISIS cars entering the village in the middle of the night, but village residents said only a few cars unaffiliated with ISIS had entered."

ISIS had advanced in areas around Bir Mahli throughout the day before the strikes, but the group had no positions within the village itself, he said.

A spokesman for the Kurdish People's Protection Units militia (YPG) denied that Kurdish forces were in the area and said there was no coordination with the coalition on Bir Mahli. "Of course there is coordination for other areas, but the YPG did not provide the coalition with information about this village," Redur Khalil said by phone.

Prior to the strikes on Bir Mahli, coalition raids had killed 66 civilians since it began attacking ISIS positions in Syria in September 2014, the Observatory said.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:7SYRI
Date:May 5, 2015
Words:504
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