Russia 'will send more warplanes to Syria'
Russia is sending more warplanes to Syria to further ramp up its campaign of air strikes, a Russian newspaper reported yesterday, as Moscow defied global censure over an escalation that Western countries say has torpedoed diplomacy.
In a statement issued by the White House after the two leaders spoke by telephone, US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the Russian and Syrian bombing of Aleppo as "barbarous".
Fighting intensified a week into a new Russian-backed government offensive to capture all of Syria's largest city and crush the last remaining urban stronghold of the rebellion.
Moscow and its ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, spurned a ceasefire this month to launch the offensive, potentially the biggest and most decisive battle in the Syrian civil war, now in its sixth year.
Russian forces may remain in Syria indefinitely, the Kremlin said yesterday, as it hit out at claims that its military campaign has killed almost 4,000 civilians since it began a year ago.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said at least 3,800 civilians had died in Russian air strikes since Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, ordered his air force into action on September 30 last year.
The civilian toll makes up more than a third of the 9,300 people killed by Russian bombs in the past year, the group said. The figure also includes 2,700 Isil fighters and about 2,800 from various rebel factions.
Dmitry Peskov, Mr Putin's spokesman, said: "We do not consider as reliable the information on the situation in Syria coming from this organisation."
Mr Peskov added that there was no time frame for the Russian campaign.
"The commander in chief, President Putin, never gave any deadlines or estimates about time limits," he said.
A year of bombing has established Moscow as a key player in the Middle East for the first time since the end of the Cold War, but has brought ferocious condemnation from rights groups and plunged diplomatic ties with Western governments into crisis.
Western countries accuse Russia of war crimes, saying it has deliberately targeted civilians, hospitals and aid deliveries in recent days to crush the will of 250,000 people trapped inside Aleppo's besieged rebel-held sector.