Syrian jet crashes in Islamic State ‘capital’

A Syrian military aircraft crashed into the de facto capital of the Islamic State (IS) group yesterday, killing at least eight people, as thousands of residents fled the beginning of a US campaign of air strikes against the militants, activists said.

Barack Obama ordered US air strikes against the militants. Picture: Getty
Barack Obama ordered US air strikes against the militants. Picture: Getty

It is not yet known if the plane that crashed into the north-eastern city of Raqqa was hit by anti-aircraft fire or experienced a technical failure.

The crash killed at least eight people, including members of two families after the aircraft hit their home, according to a Raqqa-based activist.

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In Damascus, the Syrian capital, rebels emerged from underground sewers to attack government troops at dawn yesterday, one of very few such infiltration attempts to pass the boundaries of the city since the conflict erupted three years ago against the rule of president Bashar al-Assad, activists said.

At least 18 fighters were killed in the southern area of Midan after two groups of rebels crawled through the tunnel network to attack a Syrian government checkpoint, said Rami Abdurrahman, a spokesman for the Britain-based activist group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The fighters belonged to several rebel brigades, including Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate, the Nusra Front.

The fighting lasted for four hours, said activist Mamoun Ayoubi, adding that the fighters were trying to relieve pressure on rebels in eastern Damascus.

He said: “This is not a normal situation, the fighting didn’t halt from 3am to 7am.”

There has been intense fighting around the eastern edge of Damascus in recent weeks. Rebels have been firing mortars into the capital, killing civilians, and there have been clashes near the government-controlled neighbourhood of Jaramana. Syrian government aircraft have bombed nearby towns, apparently in reprisal, killing dozens of civilians.

More than 190,000 people have been killed since the start of the conflict in 2011, which has since transformed into a multilayered civil war.

The IS group now controls a proto-state that stretches from northern Syria across much of northern and western Iraq. Raqqa, an ancient city on the Euphrates River with a pre-war population of 500,000, serves as the extremists’ stronghold in Syria.

The United States has been conducting air strikes against IS fighters in Iraq since the militants tried to push towards the northern city of Irbil in Iraq’s largely autonomous Kurdish region in August.

President Barack Obama last week authorised strikes against the group in Syria as well, and his administration has brought together an international coalition to destroy the group.

The US yesterday carried out its first air strike against IS militants under a new strategy to defeat the group.

America’s military said the strike destroyed an IS position south-west of Baghdad which militants had used to fire on Iraqi forces.

The strike came five days after Mr Obama outlined his plan to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the militants.

IS has seized large areas of Syria and Iraq and declared a caliphate.

US fighter planes have conducted more than 160 air strikes across Iraq since August.

In his speech last week, Mr Obama unveiled a plan to defeat IS using air strikes, support for Iraqi troops, anti-terrorism activities and humanitarian aid.

However, Mr Obama has said there are no plans to send in American ground troops.