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Airstrikes target IS de facto capital of Raqqa in Syria

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Beirut: Airstrikes hit several positions of the Islamic State group in its de facto capital of Raqqa in northern Syria today, killing and wounding at least 15 people, opposition activists and social media pages loyal to IS said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 15 blasts shook the northern and eastern outskirts of Raqqa today, killing 32 IS fighters and wounding more than 40.

A Raqqa-based activist group that reports on IS, known as Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, said warplanes struck IS positions on the edge of the city. It had no word on casualties.

RBSS did not say which country carried out the airstrikes while the Observatory said they are believed to be from the U.S.-led coalition that began targeting IS in Syria in September 2014.

A Facebook page used by IS supporters said the airstrikes were carried out by Russian warplanes on the outskirts of Raqqa and killed 15 people, including eight children and five women. It said 25 people were wounded in the airstrikes. Airstrikes on Raqqa have intensified after last month’s attack in Paris that killed 130 people and the Oct. 31 crash of a Russian passenger plane in the Sinai Peninsula that killed all 224 people on board, nearly all of them Russians. Russia said the plane was downed by a bomb. IS claimed responsibility for both attacks.

Russia and a U.S.-led coalition that includes France have been pounding Raqqa.

Also today, a Syrian businessman that the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned last month, saying he serves as a middleman for oil purchases by the Syrian regime from IS, denied the charges against him.

The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned four individuals and six entities for providing support to the Syrian government. As a result, the U.S.-based assets of those individuals and entities are frozen, and Americans are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.

George Haswani, co-owner of HESCO Engineering and Construction Co., a major engineering and construction company in Syria, told The Associated Press in Damascus that the accusations are not true “simply because the oil pipeline is out of service and is damaged in more than 60 points.”

“These huge amounts of oil can’t be transported except via convoys of tankers,” Haswani said. “I challenge (the U.S.) to unveil any document or show images of tankers heading to areas under the control of the Syrian government.”

Earlier this year, the European Union imposed sanctions on Haswani, also accusing him of helping the Syrian government buy oil from the Islamic State group.