“I have no doubt at all, and the reason behind that is practical and simple: it’s because Russian Federation is coordinating with the Syrian Arab Army, which is the only force in Syria that is confronting terrorism”.
The clerics who issued the joint statement are not affiliated with the Saudi Arabian government in Riyadh, Reuters reports, although the Saudi regime has been a key backer of the Syrian rebel groups fighting the insurgency against Assad.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group tracking Syria’s civil war, said the Palmyra strikes killed 15 Islamic State fighters.
Hollande used a meeting on Ukraine to address Western concerns that Russia’s airstrikes would serve to strengthen Syrian President Bashar Assad by targeting rebels – perhaps including a few aligned with the US – rather than hitting IS fighters it has promised to attack.
“They want to raze it completely”, he told AFP. The representatives of the coalition command have always been saying that their targets are ISIL, al-Nusra and other terrorist groups.
One notable omission from the unity statement was Jabhat Al-Nusra, a major player in northwestern Syria that has worked side by side with Ahrar Al-Sham to capture the provincial capital of Idlib and creep closer to Assad’s coastal heartland in Latakia.
The Russian Defense Ministry has denied claims Russian aircraft struck the traditional Syrian city of Palmyra, state media report. Last week, the U.S.-led global coalition against ISIS called for Russian Federation to “immediately cease its attacks on the Syrian opposition and civilians and to focus its efforts on fighting Isis”.
The growing role of Russian Federation in Syria comes as the United States-led coalition continues to carry out airstrikes in the country against the Islamic militants who already took over large parts of Syria in 2014.
Infighting and rivalries have undermined Syria’s rebels since the early days of the armed uprising, which was a peaceful protest movement until the regime cracked down on it. Various factions formed along ideological and sectarian fault lines as well as according to which foreign power is supplying it with arms – including the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Despite the Russian strikes, analysts are not convinced that Washington’s calculations have changed significantly.
It said Syrian airstrikes against the militant groups’ positions in the countryside of Aleppo on Tuesday killed 180 rebels.
The rebels say they hope so.
Commanders of Russia’s Air Group in Syria have “taken necessary measures to prevent such occurrences”, and have sent “relevant clarifications” to Turkey, the Defense Ministry in Moscow said on Twitter on Monday.