As news of another deadly airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders-supported hospital in Syria emerged on Monday, a Syrian diplomat made an alarming, and by most accounts implausible, claim.
"It was destroyed by the American Air Force," said Riad Haddad, Syria's Ambassador to Russia, according to Reuters. "The Russian Air Force has nothing to do with it."
Haddad's assertion was immediately refuted by Washington, which leads a coalition targeting the Islamic State elsewhere in Syria, as well as Iraq. In a tweet on Monday, US Army Col. Steven Warren, spokesperson for the Western and Arab coalition, said its only airstrikes on that day "were in Raqqah (almost 300km away) and Hasakah (more than 400km away)."
MSF says that at least 25 people were killed in the hospital bombing in Ma'arat Al Numan, Idlib, including nine staff. According to MSF, the facility was hit by four missiles in two separate attacks, and its targeting was "deliberate." Separate bombings on another hospital in the same town and hospitals and a school in Azaz — a rebel-held town on the Turkish border — killed more people, with almost 50 reported dead in total.
Russia has been carrying out airstrikes in Syria since last September which are believed to have killed hundreds of civilians, and the MSF hospital was most likely hit by its aircraft or warplanes belonging to the Syrian regime. But at least 15 civilians are reported to have been killed in another location that day — and that location is one of those mentioned by Col. Warren.
According to Rami Abdulrahman, head of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, coalition jets destroyed a bakery in the early hours of Tuesday in the town of al Shadadi, south of the city of Hasakah in Hasakah governorate in northwest Syria.
"They killed 15 people that were waiting to get bread," said Abdulrahman, who added that 11 more civilians were injured in the incident.
According to a daily strike list provided by the coalition's Combined Joint Task Force, two strikes "near al Hasakah" carried out in the 24-hour period that included the early hours of Monday morning hit "two separate ISIL tactical units and destroyed an ISIL building." In a release sent a day later, on Wednesday, the coalition reported "near al Hasakah, four strikes struck two separate ISIL tactical units and destroyed two ISIL vehicles, four ISIL buildings, and an ISIL fighting position."
On Wednesday, an American spokesperson for the coalition told VICE News that it was "aware of reports of civilian casualties and can confirm the Coalition conducted airstrikes in al Hasakah province recently."
"If the information supporting the allegation is determined to be credible, we will then determine the next appropriate step," said the spokesperson, who responded from the coalition's public affairs press desk email and did not offer their name. The coalition did not say who had carried out the raids, though American pilots are responsible for the vast majority of strikes in Syria.
The spokesperson said that due to "operational security," they could not confirm details about ground operations involving the Syrian Democratic Forces, a predominantly Kurdish alliance that also counts Arab forces in its ranks. But Abdulrahman said the coalition strikes clearly coincided with fighting this week between Kurdish troops and Islamic State in Hasakah governorate.
The Russian military has been criticized for killing civilians in large numbers in Syria, a claim it denies. At least 200 civilians were killed in just six attacks in Homs, Idlib, and Aleppo governorates between September and November, according to Amnesty International, while one Syrian rights group says more than 1,000 civilians have been killed by Russian warplanes since the start of its campaign.
While the American coalition has bombed sites in Syria and Iraq with far less intensity than the Russians in Syria — where the West accuses Moscow of predominantly striking moderate rebels — activists say hundreds of innocent Syrians and Iraqis have also been hit by the coalition's air raids in the country in the past year and a half. The US military, however, has only admitted to being responsible for 16 civilian deaths that it believes have "likely" occurred during the anti-IS campaign in both countries. In refuting what appeared to be cynical misdirection by a Russian diplomat, the coalition aimed attention to the areas it is in fact bombing, and where it now appears it may have killed a large number of civilians this week.
Follow Samuel Oakford on Twitter: @samueloakford