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Raqqa residents fear the air strikes will help IS reconcile with the Syrian rebel groups it is currently fighting. (Photo: AFP via BBC)

Civilian Deaths Mount as US Bombing of Syria Expands

'We will pay with our blood,' says Abu Ibrahim, who fled his city of Raqqa ahead of US bombing. 'In big wars, the civilian will pay.'

Jon Queally

With a new wave of U.S.-led airstrikes overnight in Syria, reporting from the ground inside the country show that in addition to the damage being done to Islamic State (or ISIS) targets and other militant factions, the civilian death toll is rapidly increasing.

According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, bombings on oil refineries held by ISIS in the northeast of Syria killed fourteen militants associated with the group, but also five civilians. In total, since the bombing of Syria began on Monday, SOHR estimates that of the 183 total killed by U.S. bombs, 36 were non-combatants, many of them women and children.

Early Thursday, CNN reports:

The U.S. military has not released details of the damage caused by the latest round of airstrikes.

But the Pentagon said these coalition attacks focused on pummeling mobile oil refineries used to fund the terror group.

ISIS makes up to $2 million a day from the oil produced by the mobile refineries, Pentagon spokesman Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said.

Meanwhile, France conducted new airstrikes in Iraq Thursday morning, French government spokesman Stephane Le Foll told reporters in Paris.

France and the United States began striking ISIS targets in Iraq before a U.S.-led coalition starting bombing ISIS targets in Syria this week.

Kirby vowed that more U.S. attacks will come.

"This is the beginning of a long effort," he said. "There will be more."

In the city of Raqqa, which was rocked by airstrikes on Monday and Tuesday, residents were frightened.

"The people are very afraid," resident Abu Ibrahim Raqqawi told the BBC, "they do not know what will happen tomorrow."

On Tuesday, the Guardian newspaper spoke with a 20-year-old Syrian named Hiba, a student in the city of Raqqa which has faced the most serious bombing to date. Even though opposed to the ISIS fighters, Hiba described the U.S. attacks as nightmarish.

“There are no words to describe the bombing," she said. "It was a scene I wouldn’t wish my worst enemy to face. I was on the balcony with my little sister and we could hear the sound of planes and I was joking with her and said: ‘Comb your hair and smile, you are being filmed.’"

“Later," Hiba continued, "the bombing started and we all ran to the living room, everyone screaming and running in different directions. We didn’t know what to do. Our neighbour went to the hospital and asked if they needed blood and they said no because they haven’t got any injuries. Most people who left their homes live near Isis headquarters. We won’t leave our home. There is no point. We believe in destiny.”

And Abu Ibrahim, quoted above by the BBC, is interesting because he, along with other residents of Raqqa, have set up a website called Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently and though they are opposed to ISIS overall, and have chronicled the damage done to their city by the ongoing civil war, they remain deeply skeptical about the outcome of U.S. bombing. As the BBC report continues:

When Abu Ibrahim last spoke to the BBC, just before President Obama's announcement on Syria, he had warned of the dangers of American military action in Syria.

"The people are against IS, but if the USA bombs Raqqa, we will be with IS against the USA," he said.

While Tuesday's strikes on strategic targets like the IS-held Tabqa air base and the jihadist group's headquarters in central Raqqa were welcomed by Abu Ibrahim - albeit with caution - it is not clear that they will be successful in the long term.

"Islamic State want these air strikes," he says, "because they know if it's just air strikes without forces on the ground, they will not fall down, and a lot of fighters will join them to fight the Americans."

Although IS has been engaged in deadly battles with rebel groups in Syria who reject its extremism, some fear that by creating a common enemy the US may yet unite them.

Although Raqqa residents do not think IS can be defeated without ground troops, that also seems to be something to which they are mostly opposed.

"Our city will be destroyed, we will pay with our blood," Abu Ibrahim says. "It will be a very big war, and in big wars, the civilian will pay."


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