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Airstrikes launched at ISIS targets

The US and five Arab states have launched airstrikes against ISIS targets in the City of Raqqa, Syria.

FILE: Soldiers advance through a village towards ISIS positions. Picture: AFP

JERUSALEM - The US and partner nations have launched the first attacks on Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) targets in Raqqa, Syria.

The strikes are believed to be carried out without the consent of Damascus.

The targets included Raqqa city, the headquarters of ISIS, an extremist force that has seized large expanses of territory in Iraq and Syria and proclaimed a caliphate erasing borders in the heart of the Middle East.

Five Arab nations are assisting Washington in this first round of airstrikes, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, although their exact roles in the military action were unclear.

Qatar played a supporting role in the air strikes.

The strikes involves a mix of fighter bomber and missiles and this follows US president Barack Obama speech earlier this month in which he said the US was prepared to conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against Islamic States militants.

US officials and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group that tracks violence in the Syrian war, said buildings used by the militants, their weapons supplies and checkpoints were targeted in the attacks on Raqqa. Areas along the Iraq-Syria border were also hit.

"There are tens of wounded and dead," Rami Abdulrahman, head of the Observatory, which gathers information from a network of activists on the ground, told Reuters by phone.

The addition of Arab allies was seen as crucial for the credibility of the American-led campaign. US allies in the Middle East are sceptical of how far Washington will commit to a conflict in which nearly every country in the region has a stake, set against the backdrop of Islam's 1,300-year-old rift between Sunnis and Shias.

As part of US efforts to build the coalition, Secretary of State John Kerry travelled to New York at the weekend, ahead of the start of United Nations General Assembly meetings, for talks with counterparts from Arab and European allies to discuss plans to defeat Islamic State and hear their views on how they might participate.

POWERFUL AIR FORCES

On Monday, Kerry met Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal and British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, and participated in a meeting of more than a dozen countries, including Arab Gulf States, on the conflict in Libya.

A senior administration official said US plans "to expand our efforts to defeat (Islamic State) were discussed without specifics" during meetings but declined to elaborate.

Several Arab states have powerful air forces, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia has also already agreed to host US training of Syrian opposition fighters.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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