Airstrikes Against IS Militants Continue in Syria

A monitoring group says U.S.-led coalition airstrikes hit oil refineries in Syria early Sunday in the ongoing offensive against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.

The unconfirmed report by the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the strikes hit three makeshift refineries near the border with Turkey.

Earlier the U.S. Defense Department said coalition warplanes struck Saturday in northern Syria in a town that has been under siege by militants for nearly two weeks.

Activists and Kurdish officials said Islamic State fighters fired rockets into the town, known both as Kobane and Ain al-Arab.  At least 12 people were reported wounded in the rocket attacks, while no immediate casualty estimates were released for the coalition strikes.

The U.S. Central Command said Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates took part in the seven missions.

The Islamic State siege at Kobane has sent 160,000 refugees streaming into Turkey, while hundreds of Kurdish fighters inside Turkey have poured into the Syrian town to defend it.

Islamic State swept through large parts of Iraq in June, defeating U.S.-trained Iraqi forces and seizing their U.S.-supplied weaponry.  The group already controlled large amounts of territory in nearby Syria, where it is fighting alongside other rebels to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.

The United States and its Arab allies for the first time targeted the militants in northern and eastern Syria on Tuesday – weeks after Washington launched an air campaign against Islamic State fighters in Iraq.  

Britain carried out its first combat mission in Iraq Saturday, but the Ministry of Defense said no targets were identified as requiring immediate air attack.  

Islamic State, a Sunni extremist group, has declared an Islamic “caliphate” in northwestern Iraq and eastern Syria – a vast area where IS fighters have beheaded Western hostages and ordered Shi’ites and non-Muslims to convert or die.

The rise of the group and its brutal tactics have sent shock waves through the West, as videos of the beheadings and reports of mass executions continue to circulate on the Internet.

At the U.N. General Assembly, Russia – Syrian President Assad’s lone ally among the major powers – voiced new criticism of the U.S. military initiatives.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov – in a thinly veiled reference to coalition airstrikes on Syrian soil – accused Washington of resorting to “military interference” to defend its interests.  Moscow has repeatedly argued that the West should cooperate with the Syrian president in battling the extremists.   

In another development Friday, U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice met at the White house with a delegation from the Syrian Opposition Coalition, including that group’s president, Hadi al-Bahra.  They discussed ways the United States can support the moderate opposition to counter Islamic State and strengthen the prospects for a political transition in Syria.

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