BEIRUT (AP) — Airstrikes hit towns and villages in northern Syria Friday killing and wounding dozens of people, opposition activists and pro-government media said. Clashes meanwhile in the country's center and east with the Islamic State group led government forces to secure a main highway linking the capital Damascus with eastern Syria.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the airstrikes are concentrating on Idlib, Hama and Aleppo provinces north of the country, which witnessed clashes last week between Syrian and Russian troops with insurgents.
Rami Abdurrahman, the Observatory's chief, said 42 towns and villages were aerially bombarded on Friday alone, killing at least 12 and wounded 31.
The opposition's Thiqa News Agency released a video showing a bloodied dead baby being pulled from under the rubble in the village of Urem Al-Kubra in Aleppo province. Thiqa said five people were killed in the strikes Urem al-Kubra.
Opposition activists say Syrian and Russian warplanes have been bombing northern Syria for nearly a week, killing as many as 150 people.
The airstrikes in northern Syria came as government forces have been fighting fierce battles with IS members in central and eastern Syria, clashes that killed scores of troops and pro-government militiamen, according to IS statements and Syrian opposition activists.
Violence had broken out Thursday when IS fighters attacked the village of Shola, capturing it from government forces and cutting off the highway linking the capital Damascus and the eastern city of Deir el-Zour.
Al-Manar TV of Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group, which is fighting with government forces in Syria, said that the highway has been secured, adding that vehicles can now drive through it.
The Observatory said two days of fighting in the desert area left 120 Syrian troops, Hezbollah fighters and other pro-government gunmen dead. The government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media said Syrian troops repelled the attack by IS.
The attack by IS came as a surprise at a time when the extremists are losing ground across their self-declared caliphate. In July, the group lost the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. IS's de facto capital of Raqqa in Syria is currently under attack by the U.S.-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.
Iraqi troops and SDF fighters have been marching against IS under the cover of airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition while Syrian troops and their allies have gained ground under the cover of Russian airstrikes.
The Pentagon said in a statement Friday that since the U.S.-led coalition operations against IS began in Iraq and Syria in 2014, forces allied with the Americans have retaken more than 83 percent of land once held by extremists. It added that the effort has liberated more than six million Syrians and Iraqis.
It said these achievements have come at a cost, however, with 1,200-1,500 Iraqi forces killed in action during the nine-month campaign that liberated Mosul and an approximate 8,000 more wounded.
The Pentagon statement said SDF fighters who are marching in Raqqa and Deir el-Zour have suffered "similarly in efforts to rid their nation" of IS, with approximately 1,100 of their troops killed and 3,900 more wounded in the ongoing fight.
It said that in the month of August, the coalition carried over 455 open reports of possible civilian casualties from previous months and received 80 new reports from coalition artillery shelling or airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. It added that the coalition completed the assessment of 185 reports of which 168 were found to be non-credible, three were duplicates, and 14 were credible, resulting in 50 unintentional civilian deaths for the period.
The statement said the coalition assessed that at least 735 civilians have been unintentionally killed by U.S.-led coalition strikes since the start of Operation Inherent Resolve three years ago. A total of 350 reports are still open and are to set be evaluated by the end of the month.