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article imageUS, Arab allies launch air strikes on IS jihadists in Syria

By AFP     Sep 22, 2014 in World

The United States and Arab allies launched strikes from the air and sea against Islamic State militants in Syria on Tuesday, opening a new front in the battle against the brutal jihadist group.

The Pentagon said that Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates had joined Washington in carrying out the raids.

"Using a mix of fighter, bomber, remotely piloted aircraft and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles" the coalition conducted 14 strikes against IS targets in Syria, it said.

The operation "destroyed or damaged" multiple targets in the jihadists' northern stronghold of Raqa and near the border with Iraq, including IS fighter positions, training compounds, command centres and armed vehicles.

The first reaction to the strikes from President Bashar al-Assad's regime was muted, with Damascus saying it had been notified before the attacks and supported "any international effort" against the jihadists.

Territory in Syria  currently under control of Islamic State jihadists
Territory in Syria, currently under control of Islamic State jihadists
-, -, AFP Graphic

The US-led air assault in Syria marked a turning point in the war against the IS group, which has seized swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria and declared an Islamic "caliphate".

The fact that the five Arab nations joining the strikes are Sunni-ruled will also be of crucial symbolic importance in the fight against the Sunni extremists of IS.

Washington had been reluctant to intervene in Syria's raging civil war, but was jolted into action as the jihadists captured more territory and committed widespread atrocities, including the on-camera beheadings of three Western hostages.

Syria's opposition had pleaded for the strikes, especially after a jihadist assault on a strategic Kurdish town in the north of the country over the past week sent tens of thousands of terrified residents fleeing across the border to Turkey.

- Tomahawks from warships -

IS militants have warned the US-led campaign would be met with a harsh response and an IS-linked Algerian group on Monday threatened to kill a French hostage within 24 hours if Paris did not end its participation in air strikes in Iraq.

An F/A-18C Hornet lands on a US navy aircraft carrier in the Gulf on August 15  2014. Fighter jets  ...
An F/A-18C Hornet lands on a US navy aircraft carrier in the Gulf on August 15, 2014. Fighter jets, bombers and remotely controlled aircraft were used in strikes on Syria
Mohammed al-Shaikh, AFP/File

Washington said the strikes from the sea were carried out from US warships operating in the Red Sea and the Gulf which fired 47 Tomahawk missiles.

It said that the five Arab nations had "participated in or supported" the air attacks.

Four air strikes were also conducted Monday in neighbouring Iraq, the Pentagon said, bringing the total number of US raids in that country to 194.

It said eight strikes were carried out on a group of "seasoned Al-Qaeda" veterans west of Syria's second city Aleppo to disrupt "imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western interests".

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said the strike near Aleppo had killed 30 militants affiliated with Al-Qaeda militants and eight civilians, including three children.

A fighter from the Islamic State (IS) group holds a piece of what the IS says is a US drone that cra...
A fighter from the Islamic State (IS) group holds a piece of what the IS says is a US drone that crashed into a communications tower in the Syrian city of Raqqa on September 23, 2014
, Raqqa Media Center/AFP

Anti-regime activists on the ground in Syria said the strikes seemed to have been targeted precisely.

"They are accurate but they were fierce, in comparison to those that were being carried out by the Assad regime," activist Assi al-Hussein, who was in the town of Albu Kamal on the Iraqi border, told AFP via the Internet.

Abu Yusef, an activist in Raqa, said one of the strikes had hit a suspected arms depot in the city's ex-governorate building, which IS has used as its headquarters for many months, causing "a big fire and explosions".

The new strikes came less than two weeks after US President Barack Obama warned that he had approved an expansion of the campaign against the IS group to include action in Syria.

US officials have said the goal of the strikes is to degrade the group's capabilities so it can be taken on by local ground forces including the Iraqi army and moderate Syrian rebels, who are to be trained and equipped by the coalition.

A Syrian Kurdish refugee holds a baby as she waits after crossing the border near the southeastern t...
A Syrian Kurdish refugee holds a baby as she waits after crossing the border near the southeastern town of Suruc, in Sanliurfa province, on September 21, 2014
Bulent Kilic, AFP/File

Syria's opposition National Coalition welcomed the new raids, but urged sustained pressure on Assad's government.

"The international community has joined our fight against ISIS in Syria," Coalition president Hadi al-Bahra said, using an alternative acronym for the jihadist group.

"We are calling on all our partners to maintain pressure on the Assad regime," Bahra said. "This war cannot be won by military means alone."

- France vows no hostage talks -

The raids came hours after Algerian group Jund al-Khilifa (Soldiers of the Caliphate) posted a video showing the white-haired and bespectacled French hostage, Herve Pierre Gourdel, squatting on the ground flanked by two hooded men clutching Kalashnikov assault rifles.

In the footage, confirmed by Paris as authentic, the group gave France 24 hours to halt its air strikes in Iraq, saying that it was responding to an IS call to kill Westerners whose nations are among 50 countries that have joined the campaign to battle the jihadist group.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls told French radio there would be "no discussion, no negotiation" with the Algerian group and stressed Paris would continue its air strikes.

In a separate incident on Tuesday, Israel downed a Syrian fighter jet over the Golan Heights, indicating that it had crossed a ceasefire line into the Israeli-occupied sector.

Israeli army radio said it was apparently a MiG-21 fighter jet which was shot down by a surface-to-air Patriot missile, with the wreckage landing on the Syrian-controlled side of the plateau.

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