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Suspected U.S. strikes hit Syrian al-Qaida-held town

Associated Press

Beirut — An airstrike believed to have been carried out by the U.S.-led coalition overnight hit a town controlled by al-Qaida militants in northwestern Syria, two activist groups said Wednesday.

The Local Coordination Committees and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, both of which gather information from local activists, said the strike hit the town of Harem in Syria’s Idlib province. There was no immediate word on casualties.

It also was not immediately clear what was targeted, but Harem is controlled by al-Qaida’s Syrian branch, known as the Nusra Front. U.S. aircraft bombed Nusra militants near Harem last week.

If the latest strike is confirmed, it would mark the fourth time that American aircraft have targeted the al-Qaida affiliate in the U.S.-led coalition’s broader aerial campaign against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.

The U.S. military says the attacks against the Nusra Front have targeted the so-called Khorasan group, which Washington says is a special cell within Nusra that is plotting attacks against Western interests.

Inside Syria, however, activists and rebels dismiss the U.S. attempt to distinguish between the Khorasan group and Nusra, saying they are one entity. Many analysts also question the distinction.

The U.S. says it is not coordinating its aerial operation in Syria with President Bashar Assad, whose own air force has continued to pound opposition-held areas from the sky since the international coalition’s campaign began in late September.

The Observatory said Wednesday that Syrian aircraft have carried out nearly 1,600 airstrikes since Oct. 20. It said at least 396 people, including 109 children, have been killed in those strikes.