Monday 22 January 2018

Russia's Syria airstrikes resume amid claims US-backed rebels are being targeted

Vladimir Putin's spokesman says Russia's airstrikes in Syria are targeting other groups as well as Islamic State
Vladimir Putin's spokesman says Russia's airstrikes in Syria are targeting other groups as well as Islamic State
Sergey Lavrov listed countries with a key role to play in resolving the chaos in Syria (AP)

Russian jets have carried out a second day of strikes in Syria, with some activists claiming the targets included rebels backed by the United States.

Russia's Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Russian aircraft damaged or destroyed 12 targets in Syria belonging to the Islamic State group including a command cent re and two ammunition depots.

Officials acknowledged, however, that other unidentified groups were being targeted as well.

Mr Konashenkov said Russian Su-25M and Su-25 jets made 20 attacks between Wednesday and Thursday morning, and he insisted that civilian areas were not targeted.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said airstrikes in the central province of Hama on Thursday hit locations of the US-backed rebel group, Tajamu Alezzah. The British group said Tajamu Alezzah was also targeted on Wednesday.

Russia's air campaign in support of Syrian government forces began on Wednesday in what President Vladimir Putin called a pre-emptive strike against the militants.

Mr Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Thursday that Russia was targeting IS militants as well as a "list" of other groups.

"These organisations are well known and the targets are chosen in coordination with the armed forces of Syria," he said.

On Wednesday, however, Sergei Ivanov, Mr Putin's chief of staff, said "the operation's target is solely air support for the Syrian government forces in their fight against the ISIS".

Speaking later in the day, Mr Putin said Russia would be fighting "gangs of international terrorists" and then went on to talk about IS.

Asked whether Mr Putin was satisfied with the way the Russian campaign was going, Mr Peskov said it was "too early" to say.

In Paris, Russian Ambassador Alexander Orlov insisted that Russian warplanes in Syria were hitting at the same extremists targeted by the United States and denied American claims that its military failed to coordinate the airstrikes, describing the allegations as a "war of disinformation".

Mr Orlov said the targets were installations for Islamic State and the Nusra Front, al-Qaida's affiliate in Syria, "two terrorist organisations recognised as such".

The US and Russia agree on the need to fight the Islamic State but not about what to do with President Bashar Assad. The Syrian civil war, which grew out of an uprising against Mr Assad, has killed more than 250,000 people since March 2011 and sent millions of refugees fleeing to other countries in the Middle East and Europe.

Mr Orlov said Russian officials warned the US "via confidential channels" of where they planned to strike. He also noted a coordination centre was being set up in Baghdad that would include Syrians, Iraqis, Iranians and Russians - and any other country that wants to participate.

Khaled Khoja, head of the Syrian National Council opposition group, said at the UN that Russian airstrikes in four areas, including Talbiseh, killed 36 civilians, with five children among the dead. The claim could not be independently verified.

Iran's Foreign Ministry said it fully supports Russian airstrikes against "terrorist groups" in Syria.

The ministry's spokeswoman, Marzieh Afkham, said the "Islamic Republic of Iran considers military action by Russia against armed terrorist groups to be a step toward fighting terrorism and toward resolving the current crisis" in Syria.

Mr Putin denied reports that civilians were killed in any Russian airstrikes.

"We are ready for such information attacks," he said in a live broadcast from the Kremlin. "The first reports of civilian casualties came even before our jets took off."

Press Association

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