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Airstrikes kill 23 civilians in Islamic State-held territory in Syria, reports say

Airstrikes kill 23 civilians in Islamic State-held territory in Syria, reports say
Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces fighting the Islamic State extremist group advance near Abu Kamal in eastern Syria on Tuesday. (Delil Souleiman / AFP/Getty Images)

Airstrikes killed at least 23 civilians on Tuesday in one of the last pockets of Islamic State-controlled territory in Syria, according to Syrian state media and an opposition-linked monitoring group, as U.S.-backed forces in the area announced they have resumed their campaign against the extremists.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it was not clear if the airstrikes in the Hassakeh province were carried out by the U.S.-led coalition or the Iraqi air force. It said the strikes killed 10 children, six women and seven elderly people. The state-run Syrian News Agency said 25 civilians were killed in the airstrikes south of the town of Shadadi, blaming the U.S-led coalition.

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The strikes took place in an area where the U.S.-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces are battling Islamic State.

The U.S-led coalition said in an email that initial reports suggest there were no coalition airstrikes in the area where the deadly strikes are said to have taken place.

Lelwa Abdullah, an SDF spokeswoman in the adjacent Deir el-Zour province, said Tuesday the final phase of a large operation against Islamic State in eastern Syria has begun. She said the SDF would "liberate those areas and secure the Syrian-Iraqi border and end the IS presence in eastern Syria once and for all."

The SDF had redeployed hundreds of its forces to western Syria after Turkish troops attacked the Kurdish-held Afrin enclave this year, effectively putting operations against Islamic State on hold.

In a statement Tuesday, the U.S-led coalition praised the SDF's "focus" on fighting Islamic State, calling it critical to achieving a "lasting defeat" of the extremist group.

Abdullah said attacks by the extremist group have increased in recent weeks in parts of eastern Syria near the border with Iraq as it seeks to regroup. She said that clearing operations would be conducted with the help of the U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi forces across the border.

Elsewhere in Syria on Tuesday, more than three dozen Syrians held for years by Al Qaeda-linked insurgents in the country's northwest were released as part of a deal to hand over areas around Damascus to the government, state media reported.

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