US confirms Idlib air raid but denies targeting mosque

Activists posted images images of people being pushed into ambulances

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The US military says it carried out a deadly air strike on an al-Qaeda meeting in northern Syria and will investigate reports that more than 40 civilians were killed when a mosque was struck in the raid.

The US military says it carried out a deadly air strike on an al-Qaeda meeting in northern Syria and will investigate reports that more than 40 civilians were killed when a mosque was struck in the raid.

The jets reportedly struck the village at the time of evening prayer so the mosque was full of worshippers, with local activists saying up to 300 people were inside at the time of the air raids.

The village - Al Jineh - is located in one of the main rebel-held parts of Syria, encompassing Idlib province and the western parts of Aleppo province. Its population has been swollen by refugees, according to UN agencies.

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"We did not target a mosque, but the building that we did target - which was where the meeting took place - is about 15 metres from a mosque that is still standing," Colonel John Thomas, spokesman for US Central Command (Centcom), said on Thursday.

According to a Centcom statement, "US forces conducted an air strike on an al-Qaeda in Syria meeting location March 16 in Idlib, Syria, killing several terrorists".

Thomas later clarified that the precise location of the strike was unclear - but that it was the same one widely reported to have targeted the mosque in Al Jineh.

"We are going to look into any allegations of civilian casualties in relation to this strike," he said when asked about reports from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) that 42 people died.

Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the SOHR, which monitors the war via a network of contacts across Syria, said that most of those killed were civilians.

"Many people are still trapped under rubble and we believe the number of casualties will increase," he told the DPA news agency.

The Idlib Press Centre, which is run by activists, said at least 50 people were killed in the attack.

Activists posted pictures of bodies scattered on the floor near the mosque.

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Teams with the White Helmets organisation, a volunteer rescue group that operates in rebel-held parts of Syria, also shared images of people being pushed into ambulances and panic-stricken residents searching among the rubble for survivors.

The war, which on Wednesday entered its seventh year, started as a largely unarmed uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's rule in March 2011.

It has since escalated into a full-scale conflict that has left hundreds of thousands of people dead and more than half of the country's prewar population displaced inside and outside of Syria.

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