42 civilians die in US-led air strikes on Raqqa
At least 42 civilians, including 19 children, were killed on Monday in US-led coalition air strikes against Raqqa, a monitoring group said, as the battle for the Islamic State's (Isil) self-declared capital reaches densely populated city centre neighbourhoods.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said Western air strikes on Raqqa have killed at least 167 civilians in the last eight days, marking a sharp upturn in civilian casualties.
"The tolls are high because the air strikes are hitting neighbourhoods in the city centre that are densely packed with civilians," said Rami Abdul Rahman, the director of SOHR.
"There are buildings full of civilians who are trying to get away from the front lines."
The strikes by the US-led coalition are being carried out in support of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters who have captured more than half of Raqqa during a two-month offensive.
The number of civilians killed by the US-led coalition air strikes has climbed this summer amid fierce fighting in Mosul, Raqqa and now the Iraqi city of Tal Afar.
Airwars, a group that tracks air strikes in Iraq and Syria, estimates that 4,887 to 7,528 civilians are likely to have been killed by Western air strikes since 2014. The coalition has acknowledged 624 civilian deaths in the same period.
The US-led coalition, which includes Britain, France and Australia, says it takes all possible measures to avoid civilian casualties.
Around 25,000 civilians are estimated to be trapped inside Raqqa and the SDF said Isil was using many of them as "human shields" to try to slow the advance of assaulting forces.
"We have opened up safe routes for civilians to cross securely towards areas controlled by our forces, who are rescuing civilians almost daily and transferring them to safe places," said Talal Sello, an SDF spokesman.
"One of the major reasons for the slow progress in the Raqqa fight is the preserving of civilian lives and avoiding massive losses among them."
Western air strikes in the last few days have focused on the Bedu neighborhood in Raqqa.
Jim Mattis, the US defence secretary, visited Baghdad on Monday and said Isil's "days are certainly numbered".
"But it's not over yet and it's not going to be over anytime soon," he added.