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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Rocket Attack Hits Russian Embassy in Syrian Capital

by Carla Babb October 13, 2015

Militants fired rockets at Russia's Embassy in Damascus in what Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called an act of terror meant to intimidate those who support the fight against Islamic State militants.

The two rockets struck the embassy compound Tuesday as hundreds of people rallied outside in support of Russia's two-week-old military campaign in Syria.

There was no immediate report of casualties.

The attack is not the only backlash against Russia. Russian security officials said Monday they had arrested several people plotting to target the Moscow transportation system who had ties to the Islamic State group.

'Eye for an eye'

Also, in an audio recording released later Monday, Abu Mohamed al-Jolani, the head of Syria's al-Qaida affiliate, Al-Nusra Front, urged militants in the Caucasus to counter Moscow's air campaign by targeting Russians.

'If the Russian army kills the people of Syria, then kill their people. And if they kill our soldiers, then kill their soldiers. An eye for an eye,' al-Jolani said.

Meanwhile, U.N. envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura is holding talks in Russia on Tuesday as part of an effort to forge an understanding between Russian and U.S. officials and move toward a political process to end the Syrian conflict.

Moscow and Washington are at odds over the roles each country is playing in Syria. De Mistura plans to fly later to Washington for talks there as well.

Simmering dispute

In the latest salvo of ongoing public quibbling over the efficacy of military strategies in Syria between Moscow and Washington, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday questioned a U.S. airdrop of 50 tons of small-arms ammunition to rebels in northern Syria earlier this week.

'Will it not fall into the hands of ISIS again...? Where are the guarantees?' said Putin, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.

U.S. officials recently acknowledged the failure of a program to train moderate Syrian rebels, and the surrender of U.S.-provided equipment to al-Qaida-linked militants in the country.

Since Russia's campaign began in Syria in late September, Moscow has worked closely with the Syrian military to target what both countries call 'terrorists,' among them government opposition groups and Islamic State fighters.

Putin said that collaboration does not mean his country is pushing for a leadership role in Syria.

'Syria can have only one leader -- Syrian people,' he said Tuesday. The country's current leader, President Bashar al-Assad, is a long-time U.S. foe locked into a four-year civil war with opposition groups that has killed more than 250,000 people and displaced millions.

Monday in Geneva, De Mistura said fighting terrorists in Syria is important, but there also needs to be a parallel political process and the involvement of regional players in order to resolve the crisis that has persisted since March 2011.

'Let us remember that most of the refugees left Syria well before ISIS took over almost one-third of the country,' he said, referring to an acronym for the Islamic State group. 'In fact, they left because of the fighting between the government and what was at the time called the mainstream opposition.'

'New dynamics'

De Mistura said Russia's military action has brought 'new dynamics' to the situation in Syria.

He said he planned to discuss medical evacuations for dozens of wounded people in northwestern Syria as well as a number of other urgent issues related to the conflict and the escalation since Russia began airstrikes two weeks ago.

The talks come as Syria sees its heaviest fighting in weeks.

Syrian government troops advanced under cover of Russian airstrikes Monday and the United States airdropped 50 tons of small-arms ammunition to rebels in northern Syria.

Government forces battled rebels in a strategic area in the central province of Hama, hoping to regain the Sahl al-Ghab plain.

'Fiercest' fighting

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the clashes were the "fiercest" since the Russian air campaign began at the end of September.

Russia's Defense Ministry said its aircraft hit 86 'terrorist' targets in Syria in the past 24 hours.

The U.S.-led, anti-Islamic State coalition forces continued to strike Islamic State targets into Tuesday, conducting three strikes in Syria and 11 in Iraq, according to the U.S. Central Command, which overseas U.S. forces in the Middle East.

The European Council on Monday called for Russia to 'immediately' end military attacks in Syria that do not target Islamic State or other U.N.-designated terrorist organizations.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Russia's military action in Syria is a 'game-changer' that has 'some very worrying elements.'

VOA's Lisa Schlein and Chris Hannas contributed to this report.

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