Saturday 16 December 2017

Russian jets target Isil and former MSF clinic

A frame grab taken from video released by the Russian Defence Ministry October 1, 2015, shows Russian jets hitting a target in Syria. REUTERS/Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation/Handout
A frame grab taken from video released by the Russian Defence Ministry October 1, 2015, shows Russian jets hitting a target in Syria. REUTERS/Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation/Handout

Albert Aji

Russian war planes have attacked Islamic State and other insurgents in central and northern Syria with a wave of new air strikes, as an activist group said Russia’s air raids had killed 39 civilians over the three past days.

The new air strikes came as residents of Syria’s central regions fear that the Russians are paving the way for a ground offensive by the government on several towns in the central province of Hama and the north-western region of Idlib, where the Syrian army suffered major setbacks over the past months, activists said.

A Russian military spokesman said the warplanes flew 20 missions in Syria over the past day, hitting nine Isil targets. He said an Isil command post and a weapons-storage bunker were destroyed in the area of Raqqa, the extremists’ de facto capital.

A top official in the Russian military’s general staff said Russian pilots had flown more than 60 sorties since September 30, targeting Isil command posts, ammunition storehouses and weapons-production factories.

“Our intelligence has determined that the militants are leaving the areas they control. Panic and desertion have begun in their ranks,” he said.

“We will not only continue attacks by our airplanes, but will increase their intensity,” he added.

In Damascus, an unnamed Syrian military official was quoted by state TV as saying that the “concentrated and precise” air strikes destroyed a command centre in the central town of Latamneh in Hama province and targeted positions in the north-west.

The Russians said equipment and weapons-storage facilities were destroyed in a strike near Jisr al-Shughour and that an ammunition depot was destroyed in Maaret al-Numan. The Isil group has no presence in the north-western province of Idlib, which includes Jisr al-Shughour and Maaret al-Numan.

The Russian air strikes that began on Wednesday have mainly targeted central and north-western Syria, strategic regions that are the gateway to President Bashar Assad’s strongholds in the capital, Damascus, and along the Mediterranean coast.

Russia says it is targeting Isil and al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate, but at least some of the strikes appear to have hit Western-backed factions.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said war planes believed to be Russian attacked the central town of Hobeit in Idlib province.

The air raid came as hundreds of people fled their homes in areas near Hobeit, fearing a ground offensive by government forces, activists said.

Turkey-based activists Mohammed Kanaan and Ahmad al-Ahmad said the army has informed residents of the nearby village of Kfar Nabboudeh — which agreed to a truce with government forces months ago — that troops want to pass through the village on their way to the rebel-held areas of Hobeit and Khan Sheikhoun.

Rami Abdurrahman, the Observatory’s chief, said the first three days of Russian air strikes on Syria had killed 39 civilians and 14 militants, without saying whether the fighters included Isil members.

The Observatory said that Russian warplanes struck a hospital in the mountains of the coastal province of Latakia, causing damage but no casualties.

International charity group Doctors Without Borders, also known as MSF, said the hospital was formerly run by the group but had since been handed over to local medical groups.

“What we can confirm is that the hospital has been damaged by strikes, but the staff has been able to evacuate safely and there are no causalities,” said Yazan Al-Saadi, MSF’s spokeswoman in Beirut.

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