Russia accused of striking civilian targets in Syria

Activists say warplanes are targeting civilians in areas under control of Western-backed rebels, a claim Russia denies.

Russian warplanes unleashed a new wave of air strikes against opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, amid concerns that many of Moscow’s targets were civilian.

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Paris on Friday to discuss the air raids with his counterpart Francois Hollande, as Moscow maintained that the attacks were aimed at the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group and other “terrorist organisations”.

France is a member of the US-led coalition against ISIL in Syria and Iraq. On Thursday, the countries of the coalition called on Russia to cease its aerial campaign, which they said was hitting the Western-backed Syrian rebels and civilians.

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“We express our deep concern with regard to the Russian military build-up in Syria and especially the attacks by the Russian Air Force,” said a joint statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States, which was released by Ankara.

“These military actions constitute a further escalation and will only fuel more extremism and radicalisation,” said the coalition, which also includes Canada.

“We call on the Russian Federation to immediately cease its attacks on the Syrian opposition and civilians,” added the statement, which was published on the websites of foreign ministries in Turkey, Germany and France.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Friday that Russian air strikes targeted a field hospital in Lattamneh town in Hama province, adding that several doctors have been injured.

Russian jets on Thursday hit areas in the suburbs of Hama and Idlib, all areas under the control of loose coalitions of rebel groups, including the Western-backed Free Syrian Army.

Activists on the ground told Al Jazeera that the majority of the attacks hit civilian targets, a claim that Moscow, a key ally of Assad, denies.

In the Hama suburb of Habeet, an air strike at about 08:30pm local time killed three civilians, including a 5-year-old girl, and injured 12 others, according to opposition activist Hadi al-Abdullah.

“The destruction caused by the strike was massive. A two-storey house was completely flattened to the ground,” he told Al Jazeera.

Earlier at 02:30pm local time, an attack on Jisr al-Shughur in the northwestern province of Idlib destroyed a mosque and killed two civilians, other activists told Al Jazeera.

In Idlib’s Jabal al-Zawiya region, two children were among at least seven civilians killed in suspected Russian air strikes, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The UK-based monitoring group said Russian air strikes on Syria have killed 28 people since they were launched on Wednesday.

‘Information warfare’

Putin rejected allegations that civilians had been killed in Russian raids, dubbing the reports “information warfare”.

Russia’s defence ministry said the air raids were hitting several ISIL targets, including in the group’s self-proclaimed capital, Raqqa.

Russia rejects criticism of air strikes in Syria

Both Western officials and activists on the ground expressed concern that they are attempting to hit opposition rebel fighters.

Both Idlib and Hama have had no ISIL presence since January 2014.

The initial Russian strikes on Wednesday hit Talbiseh, a suburb in the central Homs suburb that is under the control of the Free Syrian Army, Ahrar al-Sham, and Faylaq al-Sham group, and the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front.

The rebel groups had pushed back ISIL from the suburb six months ago.

The air strikes came as Russia presented a draft resolution to the UN Security Council that would call for consent from Damascus for attacks against ISIL in Syria.

Washington had previously blocked a similar resolution, and no date has been set for a vote on this one.

The Syrian conflict, which began as protests against Assad’s regime in 2011, has escalated into a multi-faceted war that has drawn thousands of fighters from overseas.

Over the past four years, more than 250,000 people have been killed and half of the population displaced.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies