AMMAN: A US-led coalition raid on Thursday targeted a suspected al Qaeda-affiliated militant in the northern Syrian town of Atmeh, resulting in several civilian casualties, said residents and sources with the rebels fighting against the Syrian government.
One resident said at least 12 people were killed in the raid that took place around midnight in a densely populated area near the border with Turkey, where tens of thousands of displaced Syrians live in makeshift camps or overcrowded housing.
There was no immediate reports of any militant being killed, but residents said they heard heavy gunfire during the operation, indicating resistance to the raid.
The US State Department and the spokesperson for the coalition forces in northern Syria did not respond to requests for comment.
Charles Lister, senior fellow with the Washington-based Middle East Institute, said he had spoken to residents who said the operation lasted more than two hours.
"Clearly they wanted whoever it was alive," Lister said.
"This looks like the biggest of this type of operation" since the Baghdadi raid, he said.
Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died in a US special operations raid in northwest Syria in 2019.
Residents and rebel sources said several helicopters landed near Atmeh in the province of Idlib, the last big enclave held by insurgents fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and explosions were heard near the home of a foreign militant.
The militant who was the suspected targeted was with his family at the time of the raid, said a rebel official who declined to be named.
One resident said several people were killed in the raid, while another said rescuers pulled out at least 12 bodies from the rubble of a multi-storey building, including children and women.
Witnesses said the raid had ended as aircraft believed to be choppers had left the site, but unidentified reconnaissance planes were still hovering in the area.
The rebel official said security from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the main rebel group that controls parts of northwest Syria, hurried to the location after the raid.
The northwest of Syria - Idlib province and a belt of territory around it - is mostly held by Hyat Tahrir al-Sham, the former Nusra Front, which was part of al Qaeda until 2016.
Several foreign militants figures who split from the group have set up the Huras al-Din (Guardians of Religion) group, designated as a foreign terrorist organisation, which has in recent years been the target of coalition strikes.
For years, the US military has launched mostly drones to kill top al-Qaeda operatives in northern Syria, where the militant group became active during Syria's over decade-long civil war.
US-led coalition operations against remnants of Islamic State sleeper cells are more frequent in northeast Syria held by Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.