Russia strikes hit three Syria provinces: Syrian security source
DAMASCUS / ANKARA
CİHAN photoRussian warplanes carried out air strikes in three Syrian provinces along with regime aircraft on Sept. 30, a debut move that came hours after a Russian mandate on the issue and following Moscow’s sharp diplomatic moves to back Bashar al-Assad against “terrorism.”
“Russian and Syrian airplanes carried out numerous strikes today against terrorist positions in the Hama, Homs and Latakia provinces,” according to Syrian security sources. Russian and U.S. sources also confirmed the attacks, with Moscow informing Washington and Ankara about them.
The sources said the strikes hit several areas in the central Homs and Hama provinces, as well as the coastal regime stronghold of the Latakia province.
Earlier, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based monitor, reported at least 27 civilians had been killed in air strikes in Homs province. The group said the strikes hit Rastan, Talbisseh and Zaafarani in Homs, while the security source said the Russian strikes had hit Rastan and Talbisseh.
At a Sept. 28 meeting between U.S. president Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, parties agreed fundamental policies on Syria but failed to come to terms about the future role of Assad.
Turkey, which is a part of the U.S.-led coalition hitting Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) targets in Syria, insists that Assad’s ousting is a must for resolution in the war-torn country.
Control of Homs province is mostly divided between Syria’s regime and ISIL, which holds the famed city of Palmyra and much of the area east of it.
But none of the areas reportedly targeted by Russian strikes in any of the three provinces is known to have an ISIL presence, AFP reported.
The areas struck in Homs are mostly controlled by al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front, while those hit in Latakia are mostly controlled by a coalition known as the Army of Conquest, which includes al-Nusra.
However, Russia’s defense ministry claimed the country was bombing ISIL positions in Syria.
Russia’s upper chamber of parliament earlier on Sept. 30 gave the green light to President Vladimir Putin’s request to send Russian troops to Syria.
President Putin said the Russian air force will be supporting the Syrian army in its offensive operations in Syria.
Putin said in Sept. 30 comments reported by Russians agencies that Russia is “not going to plunge into this conflict head-on” and will help Assad’s army as long as their offensive operation lasts.
Putin also said he expects Assad to sit down and talk with the Syrian opposition about a political settlement in Syria.
A Russian official in Baghdad told U.S. Embassy personnel that Russian military aircraft would begin flying missions on Sept. 30 over Syria against ISIL forces, U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said.
In a statement, Kirby added that the Russian official, who he did not name, requested that U.S. aircraft avoid Syrian air space during Russian air missions.
“The U.S.-led coalition will continue to fly missions over Iraq and Syria as planned and in support of our international mission to degrade and destroy ISIL,” Kirby added.
Meanwhile, a Syrian activist group said the first airstrikes by French warplanes in Syria earlier this week killed 30 militants at an ISIL training camp. President François Hollande said six French jet fighters on Sept. 27 destroyed the camp in a five-hour operation - the first action by France since it expanded its mission against ISIL. Until recently, France was only part of the airstrikes on ISIL targets in Iraq.
Russia’s powerful Orthodox Church on Wednesday voiced support for Moscow’s decision to carry out air strikes in Syria against ISIL, calling it a “holy battle.”
“The fight with terrorism is a holy battle and today our country is perhaps the most active force in the world fighting it,” said the head of the church’s public affairs department, Vsevolod Chaplin, quoted by the Interfax News Agency.
French authorities have launched a criminal probe of Assad’s regime for alleged war crimes committed between 2011 and 2013, sources said.