New Syria Strikes, Coalition Urges Russian Halt
by VOA News October 02, 2015
Russia carried out more airstrikes in Syria Friday, as a U.S.-led coalition urged Moscow to halt any attacks on the Syrian opposition and focus on Islamic State targets.
'These military actions constitute a further escalation and will only fuel more extremism and radicalization,' said the coalition statement, posted on the Turkish Foreign Ministry's website.
The coalition that includes U.S, Britain, Turkey, France, Germany, Qatar and Saudi Arabia has been carrying out airstikes against IS targets for about a year.
In a comment clearly aimed at the coalition airstrikes, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem told the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Friday that airstrikes 'are useless unless they are conducted in cooperation with the Syrian army, the only force in Syria that is combating terrorism.'
The Russian Defense Ministry said Friday its warplanes flew 18 missions over a 24-hour period, hitting 12 Islamic State targets, including several in and around the northern Syria city of Raqqa, the Islamic State's de facto capital.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Raqqa city was hit by nine airstrikes Thursday night, but that it was not clear how many were carried out by the Russians and how many by U.S.-led coalition.
Also on Friday, ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov characterized what he said were media rumors that the Russian airstrikes in Syria were not hitting their targets as 'unmitigated nonsense.'
The Observatory for Human Rights reported on Thursday that Russian warplanes killed 30 civilians, including women and children, in Syria's Homs province.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Francois Hollande discussed the conflict during a meeting in Paris. French diplomatic sources were quoted as saying the two leaders tried to find common ground on a possible political transition in Syria.
In his speech Friday at the United Nations General Assembly, Syrian Foreign Minister al-Moualem said his government would participate in U.N. working groups to reach a peace deal, but also said it could not implement democratic reforms related to elections or the constitution while 'fighting terrorism.'
Russia, which began its air campaign Wednesday, has said it is targeting Islamic State militants, but the United States accuses Russia of using the campaign to back the government of Bashar al-Assad.
Russian jets hit IS targets Thursday, but, according to observers, they also bombed fighters backed by the U.S.
The Kremlin has acknowledged it is taking aim at 'a list' of groups beyond the extremist group. 'These organizations are well-known and the targets are chosen in coordination with the armed forces of Syria,' spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Thursday.
Talks with US
The White House was critical of the strikes.
"The fact is that carrying out indiscriminate military operations against the Syrian opposition is dangerous for Russia," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Thursday.
Earnest also said that what he called Russia's "indiscriminate" strikes would drive moderate elements of the Syrian opposition toward extremism, and ultimately exacerbate extremism inside Russia.
The two sides have held military-to-military talks on Syria.
The Pentagon says U.S. and Russian militaries will hold another teleconference in the coming days on ways they can avoid firing on each other in Syria.
Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said an hourlong conversation between the two sides Thursday was cordial. He said the Russian side made clear that strikes in Syria would continue, while the American representative 'noted U.S. concerns that areas targeted so far are not ISIL [Islamic State] strongholds.
Earnest said he could not confirm reports that Iranian troops were on the ground in Syria and preparing for a ground offensive, but he said that if the reports were true, they would be an "apt and powerful" illustration of how Russia's military operations have worsened the conflict.
Hundreds of Iranian troops newly arrived in Syria will join in a major ground operation with Assad's government forces and Lebanese Hezbollah allies, two Lebanese sources told Reuters.
To date, Iran primarily has provided military advisers in the conflict.
At a Pentagon news conference Thursday, spokesman Colonel Steve Warren did not confirm reports that Iranian troops had crossed into Syria. But, he said, 'it's no surprise to us that the Iranians are present.' Iran's Foreign Ministry on Thursday endorsed Russia's airstrikes.
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