Saturday 24 February 2018

Putin hits opponents of Assad with air strikes

A boy inspects damage from what activists said was an airstrike by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar-Assad in the al-Katerji district in Aleppo
A boy inspects damage from what activists said was an airstrike by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar-Assad in the al-Katerji district in Aleppo

Roland Oliphant

President Putin has defied the West as Russian jets bombed "Syrian rebel targets instead of Isil" yesterday.

Earlier, Mr Putin had won approval from the Russian parliament to pave the way for open intervention in Syria

According to American military sources, the US was given a warning to "leave now" and then the bombing began within the hour.

There was surprise when Russia began carrying out air strikes in Syria against the opponents of President Assad.

The strikes reportedly hit rebel-controlled areas of Homs and Hama provinces, causing casualties.

Washington confirmed that it was only informed shortly before the strikes took place.

Russian defence officials initially said that they targeted Isil, but an unnamed US official said they did not appear to be targeting Isil-held territory.

A draft resolution was proposed by President Vladimir Putin during an address to the UN General Assembly to co-ordinate "all forces standing up against Islamic State and other terrorist structures".


There are serious questions about who exactly the Russian aircraft are targeting. US officials believe that the initial Russian strikes were not in Isil-held territory, raising the possibility that Russian air power is being utilised more in the form of close air support for Syrian government forces against the multiple enemies of the Assad regime

Russia's launch of air strikes against rebel targets in Syria will not alter the strategy of the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State, American officials have said.

"The US-led coalition will continue to fly missions over Iraq and Syria as planned and in support of our international mission to degrade and destroy Isil," a State Department spokesman told reporters.

Explaining the dramatic sequence of events, the spokesman said: "A Russian official in Baghdad this morning informed US Embassy personnel that Russian military aircraft would begin flying anti-Isil missions today over Syria.

"He further requested that US aircraft avoid Syrian airspace during these missions."

Last night the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that at least 27 were killed, including five women and six children, from the strikes in the towns of al-Rastan and Talbisah, as well as the village of al-Zafaraaneh. All are in the northern Homs countryside.

It added that the number of dead was likely to rise.

Bebars al-Telawi, a media activist from the Syrian city of Homs, which was just hit with Russian jets, said:

"Before yesterday, there were reconnaissance aircraft that we had never seen before flying over our area. They were checking out targets.

"But today, the planes came from the coast, not from the eastern area or from the direction of Hama where there are regime bases. It was also a different type of plane than one we had seen in the past. This means that now everything is allowed; anyone against Bashar (al-Assad) will be a target."

France said it was "curious" that Russian air strikes in Syria had not targeted Islamic State militants and a diplomatic source added that Moscow's action appeared aimed at supporting President Bashar al-Assad against other opposition groups in the country's civil war.

The diplomatic source said it was in line with Russia's stance since 2012 that until there is a viable alternative to Assad, Moscow would not drop its support for him.

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