US, Russia hold military talks on Syria strikes

2015-10-01 22:54
(File, AFP)

(File, AFP)

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Beirut/Moscow - US and Russian defence officials held talks on Thursday aimed at preventing misunderstandings between their forces over Syria as Russian warplanes mounted air strikes against targets in the war-torn country for a second day.

The talks came as opposition groups said the Russian raids targeted rebels who have fought both Syrian government forces and Islamic State militants.

Russia's Defence Ministry said its jets had mounted 12 strikes against Islamic State targets in the last 24 hours in Syria.

The United States has expressed doubts that the Russian strikes are solely targeting Islamic State militants.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Russian planes hit a rebel base in the village of Haas at the outskirts of Idlib, and activists in the area told dpa that a US-backed rebel group in the area known as Suquor al-Jabal, or Falcon of the Mountains, was struck.

This group is considered part of the moderate rebels who were trained and equipped by the US.

The White House on Thursday would not rule out that opposition groups who had been receiving US assistance were among those hit by Russian strikes.

Hour-long talks on Thursday between the US and Russian officials focused on ensuring that the Russian military is operating under international rules and using internationally recognised communications channels.

White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said the talks would continue, and he would not rule out potential co-operation over targets in the future. He stressed that the talks were limited and did not change the US strategy of isolating Russia militarily over its actions in Ukraine.

Earnest warned that "indiscriminate" strikes by Russia risk prolonging the conflict or drawing Moscow deeper into the war.

He called Russian strikes against non-Islamic State targets a "grave miscalculation", but said there was "no reason to call into question their ability to hit the targets they intend".

Samir al-Nashar, a member of the Western-backed Syrian opposition National Coalition, told dpa that the strikes hit the town of Jisr al-Shoghur in the northwestern province of Idlib and the central province of Hama.

They targeted posts belonging to Jaish al-Fateh (Army of Conquest), a rebel alliance that includes al-Nusra Front - a branch of the terrorist organisation al-Qaeda - and opposes Islamic State.

Jaish al-Fateh has fought fierce battles against Islamic State in some areas in Syria and has made territorial gains against Syrian regime forces in Idlib in recent months.

ISIS command facility

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the air strikes were targeting Islamic State and other terrorist and extremists groups in collaboration with the Syrian military, state news agency TASS reported.

The Russian Defence Ministry's spokesperson, General Igor Konashenkov, said an Islamic State command facility had been destroyed in the area of Latamna in Hama province. 

More than 50 Russian warplanes and helicopters are part of the group conducting air strikes on Islamic State targets in Syria, Konashenkov said, according to the Interfax news agency. Four overnight air strikes against Islamic State targets were conducted using Su-24M and Su-25 attack aircraft, he told a news conference.

Russia has deployed a battalion of marines to guard an airbase used by the Russian Air Force near the Syrian port city of Latakia, Konashenkov said.

Syrian state media and opposition representatives have reported Russian strikes in areas of central Syria, including Hama, where other rebel forces including the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda - but not Islamic State - are typically thought to operate.

The pro-Syrian Lebanese television broadcaster al-Mayadeen reported that at least 30 Russian air raids had been carried out on the outskirts of Jisr al-Shoghur and Hama.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in televised comments that initial reports of civilian deaths due to the Russian air strikes appeared before the strikes started.

He denounced such reports as part of a media campaign against Moscow, echoing similar comments by the Foreign Ministry's spokesperson the previous day.

Read more on:    us  |  russia  |  syria

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