Russian Airstrikes Hit Deep into ISIS-Controlled Areas
MOSCOW – The Russian Defense Ministry said on Friday that it had bombed seven targets in Syria in overnight air raids, including a command post and a training camp near the northwestern city of Raqqa that would be the first strike in an area widely recognized as being under the control of the Islamic State.
The United States and other nations that back groups fighting President Bashar al-Assad have accused the Russian forces of targeting almost every opposition group but the Islamic State in the airstrikes that began on Wednesday.
Turkey issued a joint statement on Friday with Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United States, calling on Russia to stop targeting the opposition groups they have been supporting and warning that such attacks would feed radicalism and extremism.
The Russian foray into Syria is likely to be a top issue at a summit meeting in Paris on Friday of the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine, meant to shore up the agreement signed in Minsk, Belarus, this year that was intended to bring peace to southeast Ukraine.
In Moscow on Friday, the Defense Ministry said that its warplanes had flown 10 sorties overnight, hitting seven targets including a training camp and a command post run by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, near Raqqa.
Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the ministry, said that the training camp was near the town of Maaden Jedid and that the command post was near Kasert-Faraj, both southwest of Raqqa.
Raqqa has emerged as the capital of the patchwork of territory that the Islamic State controls across northern Syria.
Russia has rejected accusations that, in trying to shore up Mr. Assad, it has hit all opposition groups indiscriminately rather than concentrating on Islamic State militants. Its military operations have confounded the loose coalition of nations that have been backing the opposition since the civil war erupted in 2011.
The statement from the seven countries expressed “deep concern” about the Russian military buildup in Syria, and in particular Russian Air Force attacks around Hama, Homs and Idlib. The attacks avoided Islamic State targets and caused civilian casualties, the statement said.
“These military actions constitute a further escalation and will only fuel more extremism and radicalization,” the statement said. “We call on the Russian federation to immediately cease its attacks on the Syrian opposition and civilians and to focus its efforts on fighting ISIL.”
Russia, like Syria, which has been deeply involved in picking the Russian Air Force’s targets, does not distinguish among the various opposition groups, labeling them all Islamic State or “terrorists.”
As part of its campaign in Syria, the Russian Navy has deployed the missile cruiser Moscow to defend Russian Air Force planes stationed near Latakia, the Interfax news agency reported on Friday, quoting an unidentified military source.
The missile cruiser, part of a fleet that operates permanently in the eastern Mediterranean, has fired a few shots at aerial targets, the agency reported, without providing any additional details.
Russian support for the Assad government is based at least in part on a desire to maintain access to its longstanding naval station at Tartus, its only overseas military post outside the former Soviet Union.
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