Friday 30 September 2016

Russia 'hits Iran' in error as missiles miss Syria

Louisa Loveluck and Ben Farmer in London

Published 09/10/2015 | 02:30

Ashton Carter
Ashton Carter

Four cruise missiles launched at Syria from a Russian ship in the Caspian Sea on Wednesday crashed in Iran, US officials have claimed.

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Moscow has been firing cruise missiles into Syria for the past two days in attacks on rebels fighting President Assad. It was unclear where in Iran the missiles landed or if there were any casualties.

The US claims came as Russian warplanes backed an expanded offensive by Syrian regime troops battling to secure their president's western heartland and US warnings that Moscow would soon suffer casualties of its own.

Heavy clashes raged in the Ghab Plain as troops loyal to Bashar al-Assad launched barrages of surface-to-surface missiles at rebels while Russian planes bombed from above.

The push came amid warnings that the new offensive by Assad's forces and his allies could trigger another refugee crisis in the Mediterranean.

The Kremlin's decision to boost Assad's regime with its firepower has set Nato on edge and angered the Gulf nations backing Syria's rebels.

Syria's war has claimed more than a quarter of a million lives and Ashton Carter, the US Defence Secretary, said that Moscow too would soon feel the pain of Syria's war.

"This will have consequences for Russia itself… in coming days, the Russians will begin to suffer from casualties," Mr Carter said at a meeting of defence ministers in Brussels.

Although justified as a fight against Isil, Russian air strikes have mostly hit the rebel groups that forced the regime to retrench its operations outside Damascus and its western stronghold.

Lt Gen Ali Abdullah Ayoub, the Syrian chief of staff, said Russian air cover was assisting against "terrorists" - a term the government uses to refer to the armed opposition to Assad.

The new offensive was aimed at pushing an assortment of rebel groups, including the al-Qa'ida-linked Nusra Front and their more moderate Islamist allies, Ahrar al-Sham, out of high ground that threatens the rear of Latakia, Assad's coastal heartland.

Video footage showed helicopter gunships strafing rebel positions. By midday, rebels from the US-backed Free Syrian Army claimed to have shot down at least one helicopter in northern Hama. It was unclear whether it was Syrian or Russian.

Damascus and Moscow launched their first major joint assault on Syrian insurgents on Wednesday elsewhere in Hama, with Russian warships firing missiles from the Caspian Sea into Syria. But that offensive failed to make significant gains and rebels claimed that the regime had lost more than a dozen tanks to their weapons.

Irish Independent

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