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Moscow says strikes on Syrian army threaten US-Russia ceasefire plan

Diplomatic row hampers humanitarian aid supplies

By Reuters - Sep 18,2016 - Last updated at Sep 18,2016

Syrians walk through the rubble following an air strike on the regime-controlled neighbourdhood of Karm Al Jabal on Sunday (AFP photo)

MOSCOW/BEIRUT — Moscow stepped up its war of words with Washington on Sunday, saying air strikes by a US-led coalition on the Syrian army threatened the implementation of a US-Russian ceasefire plan for Syria and bordered on connivance with Daesh.

The diplomatic row heated up on the last day of a seven-day ceasefire marred by a surge of violence as warplanes hit the strategic northern city of Aleppo for the first time since the truce came into effect.

On Saturday, the Russian defence ministry said US jets had killed more than 60 Syrian soldiers in the eastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzor in four air strikes by two F-16 and two A-10 fighter jets coming from the direction of Iraq.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group with contacts across Syria, cited a military source at Deir Ezzor airport as saying at least 90 Syrian soldiers had been killed.

Russia's foreign ministry denounced the US position on the incident as "unconstructive and inarticulate".

"The actions of coalition pilots — if they, as we hope, were not taken on an order from Washington — are on the boundary between criminal negligence and connivance with Islamic State [Daesh] terrorists," it said in a strongly worded statement.

"We strongly urge Washington to exert the needed pressure on the illegal armed groups under its patronage to implement the ceasefire plan unconditionally. Otherwise the implementation of the entire package of the US-Russian accords reached in Geneva on September 9 may be jeopardised."

 

Accusations against Washington

 

Russia, which along with Iran supports Syrian President Bashar Assad, has called on the United States to press units of the moderate Syrian opposition to separate themselves from Daeshand other "terrorist groups".

Iran also condemned the US military action. "Such moves indicate America supports terrorist groups in Syria," a foreign ministry spokesman said, according to Iranian news agencies.

The US military said the coalition stopped the attacks against what it believed to be Daesh positions in northeast Syria after Russia informed it that Syrian military personnel and vehicles may have been hit.

"The White House is defending Daesh. Now there can be no doubts about that," Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in comments aired by state TV.

The US ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said Zakharova should be embarrassed by that claim. Russia’s UN representative Vitaly Churkin said Russia had no “specific evidence” of the US colluding with Daesh militants.

The diplomatic row should further complicate humanitarian aid deliveries to Syria, including its largest pre-war city Aleppo where the fragile truce has been repeatedly violated.

The UN told Reuters that aid trucks that had been due to move to Aleppo on Sunday morning were once again being delayed.

Ceasefire

 

Russia’s defence ministry said conditions in Syria were deteriorating as fighting escalated in parts of the country where the ceasefire, set to expire late on Sunday, should apply.

Aleppo was hit by air strikes for the first time since the truce began. Moscow said militants there were preparing for large-scale military actions against Syria’s army.

Heavy clashes continued on Sunday east of Damascus in the rebel-held Jobar suburb, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and a witness said.

The Al Rahman Legion, part of a Free Syrian Army rebel alliance there, said its fighters had destroyed a government tank and killed soldiers after government forces tried to storm Jobar for the second time this week.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, at least eight people died and many were seriously injured when helicopters dropped barrel bombs onto a town in a rebel-held part of the southern Syrian province of Daraa on Sunday.

Insurgents say they only reluctantly accepted the initial deal to relieve the dire humanitarian situation in besieged areas they control, and blamed Russia for undermining the truce.

“The truce ... will not hold out,” a senior rebel official in Aleppo said.

Rebels have also accused Russia of using the ceasefire to give the Syrian army and allied Shiite militias a chance to regroup and deploy forces ready for their own offensives.

 

Daesh

 

Daesh is excluded from the truce. Separate US-led, Damascus-led and Turkey-backed operations against the militants have continued throughout the ceasefire on various fronts.

One Turkish soldier and six Syrian rebels were wounded on Sunday in clashes with Daesh near the Syrian border town of Al Rai as Turkey-backed Syrian rebels pushed south towards the Daesh-held town of Al Bab, Turkey’s Dogan News agency reported.

Ahmed Osman, commander of the Sultan Murad rebel group, said the rebels had advanced south and west of Al Rai but could not say when they might reach Al Bab. “Yesterday we took two villages only, today five,” he told Reuters.

Turkey hit Daesh targets within Syria with warplanes, according to Dogan, Osman and the observatory.

On Sunday, Daesh said it had shot down a warplane in Deir Ezzor with “anti-aircraft” guns, in the same area as the US-led coalition strikes hit the Syrian military on Saturday.

 

The Syrian military confirmed the loss of a warplane it said was carrying out an operation against rebels. 

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