The Kremlin has said that Russian air strikes in Syria were targeting a list of “terrorist organisations” and that it was too early to say whether President Vladimir Putin was satisfied with the campaign so far.
Speaking a day after Moscow launched a series of strikes against what it said were “Islamist extremist targets” inside Syria, Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said: “These organisations [on the target list] are well-known, and the targets are chosen in coordination with the armed forces of Syria.”
Two Russian air strikes on Thursday hit a training camp operated by a rebel group that received military training organised by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Hassan Haj Ali, head of the Liwa Suqour al-Jabal rebel group, told Reuters news agency.
Ali said the camp in Idlib province was struck by around 20 missiles in two separate sorties.
Earlier on Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov rejected accusations that Moscow’s air strikes in Syria were aimed at targets other than ISIL.
“The rumours that the target of these air strikes are not ISIL positions are unfounded,” he told journalists after meeting US counterpart John Kerry in New York on Thursday, adding that he has “no data” on civilian casualties.
When asked whether Putin was satisfied with the way the Russian air campaign was shaping up, Peskov said: “It is too early to talk about that.”
The defence ministry said that in the past 24 hours, it has hit 12 ISIL targets and destroyed its command centre and weapons depots.
More than 50 Russian warplanes and helicopters were deployed for the offensive against the groups, Russia’s defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.
“The air group was deployed on very short notice. We managed to do that as the main material supplies and ammunition were at our facility in Tartous. We only had to relocate the planes and bring some equipment,” Konashenkov said.
Russia’s strikes on Wednesday represented its biggest Middle East intervention in decades and plunged the four-year-old civil war into a volatile new phase.
Saudi Arabia demanded that Russia end its military operations against targets in Syria, a Saudi diplomat said in remarks broadcast by Saudi-owned al-Arabiya television.
Speaking at the United Nations in New York on Wednesday, Abdallah Al-Mouallimi said that the ISIL group was not present in the areas that were attacked by Russian jets.
“The delegation of my country expresses its profound concern regarding the military operations which Russian forces have carried out in Homs and Hama today, places where ISIS [ISIL] forces are not present. These attacks led to a number of innocent victims. We demand it stop immediately and not recur,” Mouallimi said.
“As for those countries that have claimed recently to join in the fight against ISIS [ISIL] terrorism, they can’t do that at the same time as they support the terrorism of the Syrian regime … “
US, NATO and the Syrian opposition on Wednesday expressed concern that the Russian bombardments also targeted Western-backed rebels.
Putin called Wednesday’s operation a pre-emptive strike against ISIL, and the Russian defence ministry said its warplanes targeted and destroyed eight positions belonging to the group.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said Russia and the US will begin military talks “as soon as possible, perhaps even as soon as tomorrow” to de-escalate the situation, after a meeting with Lavrov late on Wednesday in New York.
Moscow also said it is ready to consider expanding its new military campaign beyond Syria to launch air strikes in Iraq if Baghdad asks it to do so.
“If we get such a request from the Iraqi government or a Security Council resolution that depends decisively on the will of the Iraq government,” Moscow would consider launching the strikes, senior foreign ministry official Ilya Rogachev, told the RIA Novosti state news agency.