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Nov 19, 2:00 PM EST

US airstrike hits al-Qaida-held town in Syria


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BEIRUT (AP) -- An overnight American-led airstrike struck al-Qaida militants in northwestern Syria, the U.S. military and Syrian activists said Wednesday.

The strike marked the fourth time the U.S. has targeted the Nusra Front, al-Qaida's Syrian branch, as part of its broader campaign against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.

The strike hit a storage facility controlled by the Nusra Front near the town of Harem, U.S. Central Command said in a statement. It was one of five airstrikes conducted by the coalition in Syria since Monday, the military said.

U.S. Central Command said the strike targeted the so-called Khorasan group, which Washington says is a special cell within Nusra that is plotting attacks against Western interests.

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

Harem is considered a strategically important border town, because it lies on a chief smuggling route to Turkey from northwestern Syria. The strike also was reported by local activists and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Observatory said the strike killed two Nusra Front fighters.

The U.S. says it isn't coordinating its aerial operation in Syria with President Bashar Assad, whose own air force has been pummeling 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.

On Wednesday, a government strike hit the northeastern city of Raqqa, controlled by the Islamic State group, killing at least nine people, the Observatory and local activist Fourat Alwfaa said. Alwfaa said the killed were civilians.

Another strike hit the town of al-Hara in southern Syria, killing eight people, including four children and a woman, the Observatory said. An activist group in Daraa also reported the strikes, but offered no casualty figures.

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Associated Press writer Diaa Hadid in Beirut contributed to this report.

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