BEIRUT – U.S.-led coalition warplanes have pounded the Islamic State group in Syria after the Paris attacks, with French raids hitting the terrorists’ stronghold Raqqa and another strike destroying dozens of oil tankers.
In its first major military response to Friday’s attacks in Paris, France said 12 of its warplanes had hit Islamic State positions in Raqqa, the jihadis’ de facto Syrian capital.
In Paris, President Francois Hollande said France would “intensify” operations in Syria.
“We will continue the strikes in the weeks to come,” he told an exceptional meeting of both houses of parliament.
Activists and a monitoring group said the wave of strikes had shaken Raqqa and sparked panic, but the number of casualties was not yet known.
“There were at least 36 explosions overnight in Raqqa city, some caused by airstrikes and some by weapons and explosives detonating after being hit,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“The blasts shook the entire city,” he told AFP.
France’s defense ministry earlier said warplanes, including Rafale and Mirage fighters, had dropped 20 bombs on targets including a command post, a recruitment center and arms depots south of Raqqa.
A training camp west of the city was also hit, it said.
The strikes came after Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bomb and gun attacks that killed at least 129 people in Paris.
“IS has imposed a security alert on the city, and it is difficult to confirm information about casualties from hospitals there,” Abdel Rahman said.
He said Islamic State had already imposed security measures in Raqqa after previous raids, including evacuating some headquarters and moving the families of foreign fighters elsewhere.
An activist group, Raqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS), said the raids caused “panic” among civilians but that no civilians appeared to have been killed.
“IS is not allowing people to walk around and has cut off all the electricity,” said RBSS activist Abu Mohammad, who is from Raqqa.
Speaking via the Internet, he said Islamic State members typically take refuge in bomb shelters during strikes.
Raqqa is regularly targeted by U.S.-led coalition aircraft, Syrian warplanes and more recently Russian airstrikes, which began on Sept. 30.
Experts said France’s strikes could be useful if they were based on solid information, but warned that intelligence gaps and the risks of civilian deaths have long been obstacles to targeting Islamic State.
“If the French do have good intelligence on where they’re targeting and they are doing it for good reason rather than to just lash out, then it could in the long term build into something useful,” analyst and researcher Charlie Winter told AFP.
He said Islamic State’s top leadership was unlikely to be in Raqqa, and that it would seek to capitalize on any civilian casualties for propaganda purposes.
The U.S.-led coalition has targeted Islamic State in Syria since September 2014, expanding a campaign that began in Iraq.
The coalition has killed hundreds of Islamic State members, the Observatory said, but has had a limited effect on its ability to hold territory.
On Monday, the Pentagon said coalition strikes on Sunday destroyed 116 fuel trucks used by the jihadis near Albu Kamal, an Islamic State-held town in Deir Ezzor province on the border with Iraq.
A coalition spokesman said the strike hit parked trucks, “the first time that we’ve hit so many at once..
Islamic State reportedly makes millions of dollars from oilfields it controls, and the U.S.-led coalition has regularly targeted this infrastructure.
The coalition has vowed to target Islamic State’s financial resources, the spokesman said, adding: “This strike was part of that strategy to start degrading their financial ability.”
A U.S.-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab forces fighting Islamic State in northeast Syria announced Monday it had driven the jihadis from 196 villages.
Syrian Democratic Forces spokesman Talal Ali Sello said that “between Oct. 30 and Nov. 13, an area of 1,362 sq. km (545 sq. miles) was cleansed of IS.
Canada said its forces had also targeted Islamic State in Iraq on Sunday as new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau comes under pressure after the Paris attacks to reconsider a campaign pledge to have Canadian forces in the coalition halt such strikes.