SYRIA launched air strikes targeting a stronghold of the Islamic State extremist group yesterday, killing at least 25 people, most of whom died when a missile slammed into a crowded bakery.
The eight air strikes smashed buildings, set cars alight and crushed people under rubble in the north-eastern city of Raqqa, which is ruled by the extremist group, according to video of the aftermath uploaded to social media networks.
At least 16 civilians were killed, alongside nine Islamic State fighters, said the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Most of the civilians were killed after at least one strike hit a bakery on a busy street, and the death toll was likely to rise, said the Observatory, which obtains its information from a network of activists on the ground.
Another group, the Raqqa Media Centre, uploaded video of the aftermath which appeared to be genuine.
Activist Abu Ibrahim said the local morgue was packed with charred bodies, making identification difficult. He said that the dead included at least eight members of one family.
Other strikes hit a government finance building that the Islamic State used as its headquarters and another building used as a jail, he said.
IS fighters joined the three-year civil war in Syria last year and have since pushed forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad out of Raqqa province. Raqqa city is now the headquarters of its caliphate.
Experts estimate the group has taken over about one-third of Iraq and Syria and has established courts, a central bank and an administrative system.
It has been virtually impossible for journalists to visit Raqqa, a city of some 500,000 people on the banks of the Euphrates river, since the town fell to the Islamic State group earlier this year.
The group routinely abducts reporters and recently beheaded two American journalists in response to US air strikes against the militants in Iraq.
The Syrian government strikes were part of an upping of military action against the Islamic State group since it swept into neighbouring Iraq, seizing northern and western swathes of that country and declaring a proto-state straddling the border.
The group sealed control over the whole of Raqqa province last month when it pushed government forces out of a final military base.
Syrian state news agency Sana confirmed “army operations against terrorist organisations” were being carried out across Raqqa province.
Sana said the operations were “eliminating increasing numbers of terrorists” and had destroyed ammunition and weapons belonging to IS.
The Sana report did not carry details of casualties.