Russia angry after US strike on Syrian soldiers

More than 60 Syrian government soldiers were killed and dozens of others injured in a US-led coalition air strike in eastern Syria

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Russia wants an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss deadly air strikes by US-led forces on Syrian troops near Deir al-Zor, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Saturday.

Maria Zakharova said the strikes, which the Russian Defense Ministry had said killed 62 Syrian soldiers, jeopardized a Russian-US agreement on Syria and looked like evidence that Washington was helping ISIS militants.

“We are reaching a really terrifying conclusion for the whole world: That the White House is defending ISIS. Now there can be no doubts about that,” the RIA Novosti news agency cited Zakharova as telling the Rossiya-24 TV station.

“We demand a full and detailed explanation from Washington. That explanation must be given at the UN Security Council.”

A US military official said he was “pretty sure” the targets hit in a halted coalition-led air strike on Saturday were Syrian forces, and that the attack was carried out using US intelligence after days spent tracking potential targets.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said the incident had taken place at around 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT) and lasted about half an hour. It was halted immediately after the coalition was notified by the Russians, the official said.

The US military said earlier that the US-led Coalition launching deadly air strike at a Syrian troop air base was “unintentional.”

“Coalition forces believed they were striking a Daesh fighting position,” US officials said in a statement, using an alternate term for ISIS. “The coalition air strike was halted immediately when coalition officials were informed by Russian officials that it was possible the personnel and vehicles targeted were part of the Syrian military.”

The strike was in an area the coalition had attacked in the past, and coalition members had informed their Russian counterparts before it began, the US military’s Central Command said in a statement.

It was issued after Russia and a war monitoring group said US-led coalition jets bombed a Syrian army position near Deir al-Zor airport on Saturday, killing dozens of Syrian soldiers.

More than 60 Syrian government soldiers were killed and dozens of others injured Saturday in US-led coalition air strikes on an air base in the east of the war-torn country, the Russian army said.

“Warplanes from the international anti-militant coalition carried out four air strikes today against Syrian forces surrounded by ISIS in the Deir Ezzor air base,” the army said in a statement.

“Sixty-two Syrian soldiers were killed and a hundred others were injured in these strikes.”

“Straight after the coalition’s strikes, ISIS militants launched an offensive,” said the statement, adding that “fierce fighting against the terrorists” ensued nearby.

“If these strikes were due to an error in the target coordinates, that would be a direct consequence of the US’ refusal to coordinate with Russia its fight against the terrorist groups in Syria,” it said.

The Russian defense ministry said fierce battle was being waged between the Syrian army and ISIS militants near Deir al-Zor airport.

The ministry also said if the US-led coalition bombing of the Syrian Army a mistake, then it showed evidence of US stubbornness for Washington’s refusal to coordinate its actions in Syria with Moscow.

After the news broke out, Russian news agencies, meanwhile, reported on Saturday that the Syrian army had retaken ground lost to ISIS militants near the airport after the US-led coalition air strike.

The RIA Novosti and Sputnik agencies cited an unnamed Syrian military commander.

At least 80 Syrian soldiers were killed in the air strike, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group said, citing a source at the airport.

Russian jets had been bombing in the same area at the same time, the Observatory said. The source at the airport said the air strike had paved the way for ISIS fighters to overrun the position at Jebel Tharda, the Observatory said.

It said earlier that only 30 soldiers had been killed, citing the same source.

Earlier, Russia’s defense ministry on Saturday said US would be blamed if truce in Syria collapses, describing Washington as not ready to force Syrian rebels under its control to implement the ceasefire.

“The United States and so-called moderate (rebel) groups under their control did not implement any of the obligations taken under the Geneva agreements,” Russian news agencies quoted Lieutenant-General Viktor Poznikhir as saying.

“If the United States does not take steps needed to fulfil its obligations under the Sept. 9 agreement, then all the responsibility for any collapse of the ceasefire in Syria would lie with the United States,” he added.

The defense ministry said there have been 199 times violations since ceasefire came into force on Monday, dubbing the situation in the conflict-torn country as worsening especially in Aleppo and Hama provinces.

It also said that Syrian town of Muaddami near the capital Damascus was ready to receive humanitarian convoy on Sunday.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also told US Secretary of State John Kerry that military officials from the United States should be fully involved in monitoring a ceasefire in Syria, Russia’s foreign ministry said on Saturday.

In a phone call with Kerry, Lavrov also proposed that documents related to the Syria ceasefire agreement should be published to avoid “any double meaning” over how the deal should be implemented, the ministry said in a statement.

Meanwhile, a senior rebel official in Aleppo warned on Saturday that the ceasefire “will not hold out as air strikes and shelling continued in some places and promised aid deliveries failed to come through.

The ceasefire is the result of an agreement between Russia, which backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with air power, and the United States, which supports some rebel groups, and has cooled fighting since coming into effect last Monday.

On Friday, Washington and Moscow agreed to extend the ceasefire.

“The truce, as we have warned, and we told the (US) State Department - will not hold out,” the rebel official said, pointing to the continued presence of a UN aid convoy at the Turkish border awaiting permission to travel to Aleppo.

“It is not possible for the party (Russia) that wages war against a people to strive to achieve a truce, as it is also not possible for it to be a sponsor of this agreement while it bombs night and day, while on the other side, the other party - America - has the role of spectator,” he said.

Aid is then meant to reach battered Aleppo, where an estimated 250,000 people in the rebel-held half of the city are living under government siege.

But forty trucks carrying desperately-needed food aid were still stuck on the border with Turkey on Saturday.

“Still no progress, but the UN is ready to move once we get the go ahead,” said David Swanson, a spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The UN has said it cannot deliver aid until “all guarantees are in place for safe delivery.”

AFP’s correspondent in Aleppo’s eastern districts said the city was calm on Saturday after a few rocket attacks overnight.


Intermittent shelling

Intermittent shelling and clashes resumed overnight in Syria, a monitor said on Saturday, testing the strained truce.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, “limited shelling and clashes have resumed on several fronts in Syria.”

In particular, fighting erupted between rebels and pro-regime forces in the opposition-held suburb of Eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, and air strikes hit several towns in the central province of Homs.

In the coastal province of Latakia, fresh regime air strikes hit rebel groups, including fighters from Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, in the flashpoint region of Jabal Akrad.

“So far, Aleppo city is still the calmest of them all,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

Under the truce deal negotiated by Moscow and Washington, fighting is to halt across the country except in areas where militants are present.

(With AFP, Reuters)

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