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US Airstrikes Anger Syrian Civilians Fleeing Their Homes

A general view shows a damaged school that was targeted on Monday by what activists said were U.S.-led air strikes, at Ain al-Arous town in Raqqa governorate, October 1, 2014.

Syrians fleeing their homes have suffered nearly four years of devastating civil war and now a U.S.-led coalition is launching airstrikes on jihadists in their country. But at least 20 non-combatants appear to have been killed in the early raids and civilians seeking sanctuary in Turkey are asking why.

The jihadists of the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, have been quick in seizing the opportunity to take advantage of the civilian casualties from U.S. airstrikes aimed at them.

On social media, the Islamic State accused the United States of launching a war against Islam, and some of the 7,000 civilians fleeing northern Syria daily through the border gate in the southern Turkish town of Kilis do not know what to think.

One such refugee, who identified herself only as Asra, said all they know is they are scared and that warplanes are striking and civilians again are dying.

Asra said American warplanes struck two homes near her house in a town northeast of the city of Aleppo. She said seven people were killed.

Pentagon officials say they have seen no credible evidence of civilian deaths caused by U.S. airstrikes against Islamic State militants. The jihadists have seized a huge swath of eastern Syria and western Iraq and imposed a draconian form of Sharia law that they viciously enforce, killing civilians themselves in the process.

But U.S. officials have acknowledged that stricter standards President Obama imposed last year to prevent civilian deaths from U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan will not apply to U.S. military operations in Syria and Iraq, although the Pentagon says it does everything it can to avoid civilian deaths.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based group that relies on information received from a network of activists inside Syria, says 20 civilians have been killed in the U.S-led air offensive against the Islamic State that started on September 23. Some local groups put the death toll higher and claim 27 civilians have been killed by coalition warplanes.

Asra said the picture is bewildering. Yesterday, she said, it was U.S. warplanes that struck her town; before it was Assad jets bombing her and her neighbors. She insists she can tell between the warplanes with the U.S. jets making a different sound from the Syrian government’s Russian-supplied supplied Mig23 fighters.

This seems unlikely and Syrian rebel commanders acknowledge that there is a risk that the U.S. and its allies will inevitably be blamed for deaths caused by Assad’s warplanes. They say the Syrian regime has increased dramatically its own airstrikes in northern Syria since the U.S.-coalition began its bombing offensive.

Abdul, a rebel fighter, said they would have accepted civilian casualties caused by U.S.-led airstrikes, if they had happened years and even months ago and occurred as part of an offensive against Assad intended to punish him for slaughtering those rebelling against him.

More than 200,000 Syrians have died in the brutal civil war with up to 80,000 of them civilians.