Russian airstrike hits US-backed fighters in Syria, wounding 6
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Russian airstrike hits US-backed fighters in Syria, wounding 6

Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces say strike occurred near eastern city of Deir Ezzor in area recently freed from Islamic State

Ahmad Abu Khawlah (5th-R), chief of the Deir Ezzor Military Council -- a coalition of Arab tribes and fighters that belongs to the broader US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces -- speaks during a press conference in the northeastern Syrian village of Abu Fas on September 9, 2017. (AFP Photo/Delil Souleiman)
Ahmad Abu Khawlah (5th-R), chief of the Deir Ezzor Military Council -- a coalition of Arab tribes and fighters that belongs to the broader US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces -- speaks during a press conference in the northeastern Syrian village of Abu Fas on September 9, 2017. (AFP Photo/Delil Souleiman)

BEIRUT — A US-backed force in Syria says a Russian airstrike has wounded six of its fighters near the eastern city of Deir Ezzor.

The command of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said in a statement that Saturday’s attack occurred on the eastern side of the Euphrates River in the industrial area that was recently liberated from the Islamic State group.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the airstrike, but said it was not clear if it was carried out by Russian or Syrian warplanes.

SDF fighters have been advancing against IS fighters on the east bank of the Euphrates while Syrian government forces and their allies are pushing on the western side against the extremists.

In addition to the campaign against IS in the area around Deir Ezzor, Syrian government troops and their allies intensified an offensive Friday against IS jihadists in central Syria, trying to consolidate their control on the area.

The Syrian troops and Russian military police patrolled the dusty and desolate streets of Okeirbat, which was recaptured from the extremists on September 2.

Russian soldiers who convoyed a group of journalists stand guard as local children look at them with curiosity in the city of Deir Ezzor, Syria, Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. (AP Photo)

A militant counteroffensive was crushed Thursday amid intense Russian airstrikes. Distant thuds of artillery were heard in Friday afternoon and evening, indicating the persistence of the fighting.

The militants had controlled Okeirbat since 2014, and Russian military officials showed visiting journalists a bombed-out warehouse that was used by the extremists to repair and fortify tanks in the once-thriving town of 10,000 people, the largest held by IS in Hama province.

The fight for Okeirbat, which lies on a strategic route linking western Syria to IS strongholds in the east, reflects the group’s desperation to retain its presence in Hama province in central Syria.

It also shows the determination of the government of President Bashar Assad to uproot the group from the area, which had been a launching pad for attacks.

The Russian military has provided extensive air cover for Assad, Moscow’s longtime ally, in the civil war. It sought to portray the capture of Okeirbat as a major breakthrough, helping an offensive in which Syrian government forces broke a siege by IS militants on the strategic city of Deir Ezzor only two weeks ago.

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