Tensions between the USA and Russia are escalating over Russian airstrikes that apparently are serving to strengthen Syrian President Bashar Assad by targeting rebels – perhaps including a few aligned with the U.S. – rather than hitting Islamic State fighters it promised to attack.
The Russian Defense Ministry said its Sukhoi-34, Sukhoi-24M and Sukhoi-25 warplanes had flown 18 sorties, describing targets in western and northern Syria, including a command post and a communications center in the province of Aleppo, a militant field camp in Idlib and a command post in Hama.
“These military actions constitute a further escalation and will only fuel more extremism and radicalisation”, it reads.
Lavrov insisted Russian Federation was targeting the same militant groups as the US-led coalition, which is conducting its own airstrikes in Syria: the Islamic State, the al-Qaeda-linked Jabbat al-Nusra and other groups.
The West has raised concerns that Russian forces were also striking at rebel groups opposed to Assad, in a bid to bolster its ally.
The Kremlin has denied reports that a few of its strikes earlier in the week had killed at least 36 civilians, including five children.
“I would say to them: ‘Change direction, join us in attacking ISIL, but recognise that if we want to have a secure region, we need an alternative leader to Assad”.
Speaking in an interview with Al-Jazeera Arabic, Erdogan expressed anger that whereas Moscow had informed Ankara it would be attacking Islamic State (IS) jihadists in Syria, it had in fact targeted moderate Syrian rebels.
“As a result of our airstrikes on [ISIS] targets, we have managed to disrupt their control system, the terrorist organization’s supply lines, and also caused significant damage to the infrastructure used to prepare acts of terror”, the ministry said.
With the danger growing that Russian and USA planes could collide or even engage militarily in the skies above Syria, the Pentagon and Russian officials held what the Americans said were “cordial and professional” discussions on Thursday in a bid to avoid mishaps.
The third day of Russian airstrikes in Syria prompted an angry response by the US-led coalition that has been arrayed against ISIS for more than a year, but without any great success. But many of these groups have had limited success against Assad’s forces. “These organizations are well-known and the targets are chosen in coordination with the armed forces of Syria”, spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Thursday.
The United Nations, meanwhile, has been forced to suspend planned humanitarian operations in Syria under a ceasefire agreement due to the surge of military activities.