US-led coalition airstrikes targeting the Islamic State (IS) allegedly killed at least 52 civilians, including 16 women and children, Friday in northern Syria.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based organization that monitors the conflict in Syria, reported that the strikes targeted the village of Ber Mahli, near the IS stronghold of Aleppo. Beyond the 52 reported casualties, another 13 civilians are missing and presumed dead, the group said. The SOHR condemned the strikes as a "massacre" by the US coalition.
"We in SOHR condemn in the strongest terms this massacre committed by the US-led coalition under the pretext of targeting the IS in the village, and we call the coalition countries to refer who committed this massacre to the courts, as we renew our calls to neutralize all civilians areas from military operations by all parties," the SOHR wrote Saturday on its website.
SOHR head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP that the village of Ber Mahli is one mile away from an area where IS has been battling Kurdish and Syrian rebel forces, but said only civilians live there and "not a single IS fighter" was killed in the strikes.
Contacted Saturday by VICE News, Col. Wayne Marotto, a spokesman for the US-led coalition, said he hadn't heard about the SOHR report on the Ber Mahli airstrike. "I need to look into this because I'm personally not aware of it," he said.
Marotto followed up with a statement via email that said the US has "significant mitigation measures in place within the targeting process and during the conduct of operations to reduce the potential risks of collateral damage and civilian casualties."
"We have no information to corroborate allegations that Coalition airstrikes resulted in civilian casualties," Marotto said. "Regardless, we take all allegations seriously and will look into them further. I can assure you that before any mission, every precaution is taken to ensure civilians are not harmed."
Centcom did not immediately respond Saturday to an email inquiry from VICE News.
US-led coalition strikes have been targeting IS positions in Syria since last September. The SOHR has reported that more than 2,000 people have been killed in the operation since it began, including 1,922 IS fighters.
The US-led strikes are meant to support Kurdish and opposition forces that are on the ground battling IS, and are credited with helping Kurdish militias successfully repel the militant advance on the city of Kobane earlier this year. As of April 23, Centcom told VICE News that they could not confirm a single civilian casualty from the bombing campaign.
According to SOHR, 66 civilians have been killed in the coalition bombing since last September, not including the strikes on Friday. The US military was previously criticized by SOHR last September when an early round of strikes in Syria hit a grain storage facility, failing to kill any IS members and reportedly killing several civilians in the process.
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Samuel Oakford contributed reporting for VICE News