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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Russia Launches New Airstrikes Against Syrian Rebels

by VOA News October 11, 2015

Russia launched a new aerial bombardment on Syrian rebels, helping President Bashar al-Assad's government reclaim territory it had lost.

Moscow said it hit 63 targets, destroying 53 of them, with many of the attacks Sunday in Tal Skik, a highland area of Idlib province that had been controlled by rebels fighting Syrian forces.

As with recent sorties, Russia described the targets as belonging to Islamic State insurgents. But most of the positions have not been held by that group, but rather factions fighting the Assad government.

In an interview with Russian state television, President Vladimir Putin defended Moscow's intervention in Syria, saying the objective is to stabilize the Damascus government and open the path for a political compromise.

'When a division of international terrorists stands near the capital,' Putin said, 'then there is probably little desire for the Syrian government to negotiate, most likely feeling itself under siege in its own capital.'

The U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria said it staged another 24 aerial attacks against the insurgents in the two countries.

Russian-made cluster bombs

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch said Sunday a type of Russian-made cluster bomb has been used in northern Syria for the first time.

The New York-based group said the development 'raises grave concerns' that Russia is either dropping the cluster bombs itself as part of its nearly two weeks of airstrikes in Syria or is providing them to the Syrian military.

'It's disturbing that yet another type of cluster munition is being used in Syria given the harm they cause to civilians for years to come,' HRW Deputy Middle East Director Nadim Houry said. 'Neither Russia nor Syria should use cluster munitions, and both should join the international ban without delay.'

HRW based its report on photos and pictures taken near the village of Kaf Halab, about 15 kilometers southwest of Aleppo, that showed remnants of the munitions and mid-air explosions consistent with their use.

On Saturday, spokesman Igor Konashenkov told Russian reporters that the military had increased its number of strikes because of 'significant growth in the number of ground targets' detected through aerial and satellite reconnaissance.

US-Russia video conference

Meanwhile, top U.S. and Russian defense officials have held talks via video conference as part of an effort to promote safe operations for the various militaries now flying in increasingly crowded airspace.

U.S. Defense Department spokesman Peter Cook described the talks as 'professional' and said they focused narrowly on air safety procedures. The Russian Defense Ministry used similar language to describe the talks.

In addition to warplanes from Syria and Russia conducting airstrikes in Syria, the U.S. has been leading a coalition conducting its own strikes, including forces from Australia, Canada, France, Jordan, Britain and the Netherlands.

In neighboring Iraq, where the Islamic State group also holds large swaths of territory, a separate U.S.-led coalition features Australia, Bahrain, Canada, France, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

The U.S.-led effort in Iraq has included about 4,700 airstrikes since August 2014, according to Pentagon data, and more than 2,600 in Syria since beginning there a month later.

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