Russia rejects criticism of air strikes in Syria

Lavrov says operations targeting “ISIL and other terrorist groups”, with announcement of raids in two Syrian provinces.

Air strikes Talbiseh Syria
US-led coalition has not scaled back its attacks on ISIL in Syria since the launch of Russian air strikes [AP]

Russia’s foreign minister has defended Russia’s military operations in Syria after it came under international criticism during a news conference at the UN headquarters in New York.

Addressing the media on Thursday, Sergey Lavrov said the goal of the Russian military operation was in response to the request of President Bashar al-Assad and on the basis of the decision granted by the Russian parliament with the Russian president and in accordance with the Russian constitution.

“I would recall that we always were saying that we are going to fight ISIL and other terrorist groups, this is the same position that the Americans are taking, the representatives of the coalition command have always been saying that their targets are ISIL, al-Nusra and other terrorist groups,” Lavrov said.

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“If it looks like a terrorist, if it acts like a terrorist, if it walks like a terrorist, if it fights like a terrorist, it’s a terrorist, right?

“This is basically our position, as well. We see eye-to-eye with the coalition on this one.”

Lavrov’s comments came as a Russian official said military jets had struck five more ISIL targets in Syria on Thursday.

“Russian Sukhoi Su-24M and Sukhoi Su-25M conducted eight flights to strike five IS targets,” Igor Konashenkov, defence ministry spokesman, was quoted by the RIA Novosti state news agency as saying on Thursday.

The air strikes targeted two provinces: Idlib in northwest Syria and Hama in the country’s centre.

The defence ministry said it had also hit an ISIL training camp in Maaret al-Numan and a command post in Jisr al-Shughur, both in Idlib province.

Two air strikes hit a training camp operated by a rebel group that received military training organised by the US Central Intelligence Agency in Gulf Arab states, Hassan Haj Ali, head of Liwa Suqour al-Jabal, told Reuters news agency.

Ali said the camp in Idlib was struck by around 20 missiles in two separate sorties.

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These latest strikes are the third round of bombings Russia has conducted since Wednesday.

“We have prevented Islamic State [ISIL] fighters from re-establishing a command post in the Hama province that had been destroyed in our air strikes on September 30,” Konashenkov said.

He said information on the result of the strikes would be released at a later time.

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Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin spokesperson, said the goal of Russia’s operation in Syria was to help government forces battle ISIL.

“The goal [of the Russian operation] is to help the Syrian armed forces in their weak spots in the fight against ISIL and other terrorist and extremist groups,” Peskov was quoted as saying on Thursday by Russian news agencies.

The US-led coalition has not scaled back its attacks on ISIL in Syria since the launch of Russian air strikes, a US military official said on Thursday.

Colonel Steve Warren, a military spokesperson, said coalition planes had flown several sorties over the past 24 hours in Syria.

One of these missions resulted in two “enemy excavators” being blown up. Warren said the other planes did not drop bombs because of a lack of clear targets.

“We have not altered operations in Syria to accommodate new players on the battlefield,” he said.

“We are continuing our operations in Syria, bottom line.”

Iraq welcomes air strikes

Despite Lavrov saying that Russia is not planning on expanding its operations to Iraq, Iraq’s government said on Thursday it would welcome Russian air strikes against ISIL.

Asked by France 24 television whether he had discussed air strikes with Russia in his country, Haider al-Abbadi, Iraqi prime minister, said “not yet” and that “it is a possibility. If we get the offer, we will consider it, and I would welcome it”.

“We were not invited or asked,” Lavrov said during Thursday’s press conference.

“We are a polite people as you know. We don’t come if we’re not invited.”

Footage released by Russia's defence ministry shows air strikes carried out on a mountainous area in Syria [Reuters]
Footage released by Russia’s defence ministry shows air strikes carried out on a mountainous area in Syria [Reuters]
Source: News Agencies