BEIRUT (AP) — Syria's government on Monday accused the U.S.-led coalition of launching airstrikes on a Syrian army camp in the country's east that killed three soldiers and wounded 13 and sent a protest letter to the U.N. over the incident.
The U.S. denied the claim, saying the alliance carried out four airstrikes against oil wells in the province — all of them miles away from the alleged location of the incident.
The city of Deir el-Zour, where the purported strikes happened Sunday, is mainly held by the Islamic State group, but the Syrian government maintains a presence in some parts of it. A U.S.-led coalition has been striking at IS targets in Syria for the past year. France and the United Kingdom have recently joined in and have carried out airstrikes of their own in Syria.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the Syrian conflict through a network of activists on the ground, also reported the airstrikes and gave a death toll similar to the Syrian government. According to the Observatory, in Syria's overcrowded skies, the aircraft behind the incident in Deir el-Zour are "believed" to belong to the anti-IS coalition targeted.
The planes hit the camp known as "Sa'iqa,"the Observatory said, though it gave a slightly different account for its location, saying the camp is near the village of Ayyash in the western countryside of Deir el-Zour.
If confirmed, the airstrikes would mark the first time coalition forces fighting the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq have attacked Syrian government forces.
In a letter sent to the United Nations and published in Syrian state media on Monday, the government in Damascus said four aircraft belonging to the U.S.-led coalition targeted the army camp in the eastern city of Deir el-Zour on Sunday night.
In addition to the casualties, it said the attack destroyed armored and other vehicles and a weapons and ammunition depot. The city, in the province also called Deir el-Zour, is mainly in the hands of the Islamic State but the Syrian government still holds some parts of it.
"This hampers efforts to combat terrorism and proves once again that this coalition lacks seriousness and credibility to effectively fight terrorism," the Syrian letter said.
The U.S.-led Combined Joint Task Force coordinating coalition activities against the Islamic State group said in a statement that the alliance carried out four airstrikes solely against the wells in Deir el-Zour province, all of them some 55 kilometers (34 miles) southeast of Ayyash.
"We did not strike any vehicles or personnel targets in this area. We have no indication any Syrian soldiers were even near our strikes," the statement said, adding that it takes allegations of potential collateral damage seriously and investigates them.
Lt. Col. Kristi Beckman, director of public affairs at the Combined Air Operations Center at al-Udeid air base in Qatar, said there was no indication that the coalition had killed Syrian troops.
"We're aware of the incident, however at this time we don't have any indication our strikes killed Syrian soldiers," she told The Associated Press.
Since the end of September, Russian planes have also pounded the Islamic State group and other insurgents in Syria fighting to topple President Bashar Assad.
On Sunday, airstrikes hit several IS positions in its de facto capital of Raqqa in northern Syria, killing and wounding at least 32 IS fighters according to several anti-IS activists. IS media accused the Russians of being behind those attacks and claimed civilians were killed.
In Iraq, Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari warned that the deadline for the withdrawal of additional Turkish forces from Iraq's north expires Tuesday, after which Iraq will bring the matter before the United National Security Council.
Turkey says its troops have been stationed at a small base outside of Mosul since last year as part of a training mission coordinated with the Iraqi government in Baghdad. However the arrival of additional Turkish forces on Friday sparked uproar in the Iraqi capital.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has repeatedly called for the forces to be withdrawn, while a number of other senior Iraqi politicians have called the move a violation of Iraq's sovereignty.
Turkey announced Sunday additional deployments to Iraq would be halted until the Iraqi government's "sensitivities are overcome."
According to U.S. officials, this deployment is part of an agreement between Turkey and Iraq and does not involve the U.S. or the coalition. The officials say that the mission is to train and advise the Iraqi forces in the effort to battle Islamic State militants and eventually take back Mosul.