Airstrikes on IS-Held Raqqa Kill 18 Civilians

BEIRUT (AP) -

Airstrikes in Syria targeting the Islamic State terror group’s de facto capital of Raqqa killed at least 18 civilians, including two children, activists said Wednesday.

The strikes, which the activists blamed on Russian and Syrian warplanes, came after an advance toward the city by government forces stalled, with the terrorists taking back large areas in the surrounding province.

Syrian President Bashar Assad meanwhile designated a new prime minister to form a government following April’s parliamentary elections. The vote, held only in government-controlled areas, was dismissed by the opposition and much of the international community.

Also on Wednesday, activists reported the release of a prominent Assyrian politician detained by the government for more than two years. The Assyrian Human Rights Network said on its social-media page that Gabriel Moshe Kourieh had been detained since December 2013. He was based in Qamishli, in eastern Syria, and had been a vocal supporter of the revolt against Assad.

The strikes on Raqqa took place on Tuesday evening. Activists from the group known as Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, which relies on residents to smuggle news out of IS-held territory, said the air raids killed 18 people and wounded 28.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the toll at 25 civilians, including six children. Different casualty tolls are common in reporting on Syria’s civil war, now in its sixth year.

Both activist groups blamed the Russian and Syrian air forces for the raids, saying Damascus and its ally Moscow were pummeling IS out of frustration at government losses earlier this week.

There was no immediate comment from the Syrian government. The U.S.-led coalition has also been bombing Raqqa, which is the de facto capital of the IS terror group’s self-styled caliphate.

Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently said at least one of the airstrikes targeted a neighborhood popular among foreign fighters.

The Islamic State terror group retook large swaths of Raqqa province from government forces on Tuesday, just two days after Syrian troops managed briefly to seize Thawra, an IS-held oil field, and threatened to retake the Tabqa air base from the terrorists.

The government’s highly-publicized campaign to retake Raqqa began on June 2. On Sunday, Syrian government forces advanced to within six miles of the Tabqa base. The base, located 28 miles from Raqqa, holds strategic and symbolic value in the government campaign.

It was the last position held by government forces in Raqqa province before IS terrorists overran it in August 2014, killing scores of detained Syrian soldiers in a massacre the terrorists documented on video. Raqqa was the first city to fall to IS.

On Wednesday, Assad appointed incumbent electricity minister, Imad Khamis, a member of Assad’s Baath party, as prime minister-designate.