US: Russian strikes in Syria killing civilians
WASHINGTON – Agence France-Presse
REUTERS photoThe United States expressed concern on Dec. 29 at what it said was the heavy civilian toll of “indiscriminate” Russian air strikes in Syria.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to his Russian counterpart Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Dec. 28 and conveyed Washington’s worries.
“Russian air strikes in Syria have killed hundreds of civilians, including first responders, [and] hit medical facilities, schools and markets,” said State Department spokesman Mark Toner.
Toner added that in October and the first half of November, more than 130,000 Syrians had been forced to flee their homes, in part because of intensified Russian bombing.
Moscow has angrily denied reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Syrian rights groups that its air campaign in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s government is hitting civilians.
Russia on Dec. 30 slammed as “absurd” accusations by the United States that Russian air strikes in Syria are killing hundreds of civilians.
Russia has come under growing criticism from the West as well as human rights groups and Syrian rebels for inflicting civilian casualties in its two-month bombing campaign in the war-torn country.
“All of these anonymous and unsubstantiated statements about the alleged use of Russian aircraft on civilian targets in Syria is increasingly reminiscent of hypnotists’ acts in travelling circuses,” Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement, calling the claims “absurd.”
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Dec. 30 that Moscow’s strikes had killed 2,371 people since they were launched Sept. 30.
It said the toll includes 792 civilians, among them 180 children.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said it deplored the “absolute silence” about the strikes by the United States, which is leading a coalition conducting its own bombing campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
It said the U.S. raids had caused “mass casualties.”
Amnesty International last week issued a damning report claiming that the Russian raids had killed hundreds of civilians, many in targeted strikes that could constitute war crimes.
Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov dismissed the report, saying it was made up of “clichés and fakes.”
Toner said the United States had expressed its concerns to Moscow about “these indiscriminate attacks ... on infrastructure, on medical facilities, on civilians.”
Kerry also complained to Lavrov about the killing of Syrian rebel chief Zahran Alloush, in an air strike claimed by al-Assad’s government.
Toner said the United States had concerns about the rhetoric and tactics of Alloush’s rebel group – Jaish al-Islam – but had noted that he was ready to take part in U.N.-mediated peace talks.
“It is our hope that it does not send a discouraging message to other members of the Syrian opposition ... who have expressed a willingness to take part in this process,” Toner said.