Syria air strikes kill at least 15 jihadists, but also 16 civilians: NGO

Smoke rises after what activists say was shelling from forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Raqa on Aug 17, 2014. Syrian air strikes in the jihadist-held northern city of Raqa on Saturday, Sept 6, 2014, killed 31 people, includin
Smoke rises after what activists say was shelling from forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Raqa on Aug 17, 2014. Syrian air strikes in the jihadist-held northern city of Raqa on Saturday, Sept 6, 2014, killed 31 people, including 15 Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) members, a monitoring group said. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIRUT (AFP) - Syrian air strikes in the jihadist-held northern city of Raqa on Saturday killed 31 people, including 15 Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) members, a monitoring group said.

"Regime warplanes carried out eight air strikes targeting Raqa and its surroundings," said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman. At least 15 jihadists and 16 civilians, including three children and two women, were killed. Eight of the civilian dead were from a single family.

The strikes come amid a stepped-up campaign by President Bashar al-Assad's regime targeting ISIS positions in north and east Syria. Activists say such air raids often kill many civilians as well as jihadists.

Similar strikes on Tuesday in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor killed 16 people, including 10 children. Among the targets on Saturday were a building housing an ISIS Islamic court and a training camp. Seventeen of the dead were killed when a bakery was hit.

The ISIS first emerged in Syria's war in late spring 2013, when it was named the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Its horrific abuses, including near-daily public executions, have made it widely feared in areas it controls, but activists say people stay silent for fear of reprisals.

In a separate development, the Observatory said the number of people killed in a air strike on Friday targeting a Syrian rebel-held area of Aleppo city in the north has risen to 15.

Insurgent areas of Aleppo have come under massive aerial bombardment since December, killing hundreds of people and prompting tens of thousands to flee to safety.

The regime has kept up its offensive despite a United Nations Security Council resolution in February condemning such strikes.

And east of Damascus, regime troops backed by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters made another gain against rebel forces by taking the village of Hteitet Jarash, the Observatory said.

The village is near Mleiha, a former rebel bastion that fell to government control in mid-August after several months of fierce fighting and near-daily bombardment.

Hteitet Jarash is in the Eastern Ghouta area, which the army has besieged for more than a year.

Syria's war began in March 2011 as a peaceful protest movement demanding Mr Assad's ouster, but morphed into a brutal war after the regime unleashed a massive crackdown against dissent.

The United Nations says at least 191,000 people have been killed in the more than three-year conflict.