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Russia rejects claim of targeting civilians in Syria

Russia has rejected a recent allegation by a shadowy monitoring group that Moscow has conducted air raids on civilian-populated areas in Syria.

The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), which is based in the United Kingdom, recently claimed that it had documented “intense airstrikes” by Russian and Syrian government warplanes and helicopters in Syria’s northwestern Idlib Province, which it said had killed civilians.

The Russian Defense Ministry rejected that allegation on Tuesday.

“The Russian Air Force does not strike populated areas in the Syrian Arab Republic,” Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said.

“The statements by the Observatory, sourced to anonymous ‘eyewitnesses’ or ‘volunteers,’ are traditionally unsubstantiated and serve as an ‘informational cover’ for the activity of al-Nusra [Front] militants and affiliated warring factions,” Konashenkov said.

In the past 24 hours, he said, Russian jets had carried out 10 strikes on terrorist targets in Idlib following reconnaissance drone sorties and “other intelligence channels.”

The Russian ministry also released footage of the airstrikes, and Konashenkov stressed that the targets had all been situated far away from residential areas.

The attacks targeted the terrorists’ underground bases, ammunition depots, armored vehicles, rocket launchers, and workshops for loading explosives on vehicles, he said.

“The destroyed facilities and equipment were used both during training and during the terrorist attack on September 18,” when al-Nusra militants targeted a Russian military police unit in Syria’s western Hama Province, Konashenkov said.

The offensive, he said, had been orchestrated by the US security services in a bid to derail the counter-terrorism operation led by the Syrian army near the eastern city of Dayr al-Zawr.

Syrian pro-government forces flash the V-sign on the outskirts of Dayr al-Zawr on September 24, 2017, as they continue a counter-terrorism operation there. (Photo by AFP)

Russia has been conducting air raids against Daesh and other terrorist outfits in Syria at the Damascus government’s request since September 2015.

Earlier this month, Syrian government forces, backed by Russian aerial cover, broke a three-year-long Daesh siege on Dayr al-Zawr.

The Syrian forces are pushing to liberate Dayr al-Zawr, and a ragtag grouping of militants that receives support from the US and that does not coordinate with the Syrian military has also been advancing toward the city from another front.

The operations by the US-backed group have increased tensions in Dayr al-Zawr and raised the possibility of confrontation with the Syrian and Russian militaries.

On Sunday, a Russian lieutenant-general was killed when a Syrian command outpost came under mortar fire by Daesh terrorists in Dayr al-Zawr.

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