Scores of people were reportedly killed by airstrikes over the past 24 hours in the Syrian provinces of Raqqa and Deir al-Zor, areas largely under the Islamic State's (IS) control in the northern and eastern part of the country.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based monitoring group, said that at least 32 people were killed by aerial bombardment in Raqqa city, the de facto capital of IS. The dead were said to include nine children and seven women, and the group expects the toll to rise.
Another 44 people were reported killed in two towns near the eastern city of Deir al-Zor in strikes carried out by Russian or Syrian warplanes. On January 16, IS fighters kidnapped an estimated 400 civilians, most of them women and children, during an attack on Syrian government held areas in Deir al-Zor. Days later, militants released 270 of the estimated 400 abductees.
Rami Abdulrahman, the SOHR's head, said IS kept male prisoners between the ages of 14 and 55 for more questioning, and killed approximately 85 civilians and 50 others accused of supporting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"Those who they see have ties with the regime will be punished and those who (do) not must undertake a religious course based on the group's interpretation of Islam," Abdulrahman said.
The freed civilians will remain in IS-run villages in Deir al-Zor province, which links Raqqa with territory controlled by the militant group in neighboring Iraq. IS controls of most of the province, and has laid siege since last March to remaining government-held areas in the city of Deir al-Zor.
Residents of the besieged areas face severe food shortages and sharply deteriorating conditions. Of those under siege in the city, 70 percent are reportedly women and children, and many have been displaced from their homes elsewhere and are living in temporary shelters.
IS has previously carried out mass killings following military assaults in Iraq and Syria, including the slaughter of 200 soldiers captured from the Tabqa airbase in Raqqa province, and hundreds of members of the al-Sheitat tribe in Deir al-Zor in 2014.
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