Use of advanced missiles and state-of-the-art jets suggests Moscow is sending a message to more than just Syrian rebels.
At least 61 people have been killed and over 100 others wounded after Syrian government air strikes targeted a marketplace in a Damascus suburb, sources tell Al Jazeera.
An officer of the Syria Civil Defense at the Damascus suburbs branch told Al Jazeera that the air raids struck a busy market in Douma on Friday, killing at least 61 and injuring more than 100 others.
Douma, east of Damascus, has been under intense government attack for weeks now.
Witnesses said missiles were fired into the marketplace in a rebel-held part of Douma. The toll is expected to rise as people are pulled out of damaged buildings.
“This is the second time this market has been targeted in Douma,” the civil defence officer said over phone from Douma.
“There are only civilians here – no army and no opposition forces. Residents do not permit any armed person in this area.
“This market is at the heart of Douma and supplies everyone here. Lots of farmers come here every morning to sell their items. The market was intentionally targeted.”
A local activist, speaking to Al Jazeera on the condition of anonymity, said Douma was under heavy attack since Friday morning.
“Every 10 minutes, we are under attack. Rocket attacks and air strikes. They bombed a local market … we expect a rising death toll,” he said.
“Every corner of Douma is being bombed.”
The attack came as the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran met in Vienna with the aim of achieving a political settlement to help end the war in Syria.
Friday’s talks in the Austrian capital included an Iranian delegation for the first time.
Representatives from Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Lebanon, the European Union, and other Arab states are also expected to attend.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Lina Khatib, a research associate with the Arab Reform Initiative at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, said: “It’s a very good start now that we have Iran involved.
“Everybody has realised that the Syrian crisis cannot be won militarily.
“Unfortunately, the Syrian opposition doesn’t have a presence. They should have a say in what happens. They should be involved in the next stage of negotiations.”
Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Jamjoom in Vienna:
One of the key things that will unfold at the talks is whether or not the parties will be able to get Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the opposition to talk to each other.
Practically every diplomat here has echoed the same very guardedly optimistic tone – on the ground in Vienna, it sounds as though the participants – all clearly aware how difficult reaching a political solution to the Syrian civil war will be – are setting the diplomatic bar very low. While it is very significant that regional archrivals Iran and Saudi Arabia are in the same room, sitting across a negotiating table and discussing Syria, the reality in Vienna is a stark juxtaposition to what is going on in Syria.
Once again, as diplomats are trying to break their deadlock, people continue to die in Syria. Today alone, reports emerged that dozens of people were killed as a result of Syrian missile strikes. Despite the presence of Iran this time, a first for Syria talks, we’ve seen this pattern before: namely, that discussions over Syria, no matter how intense, no matter how well-intentioned, have yet to yield results on the ground in Syria, where the war rages on, the violence continues, and the humanitarian crisis continues to spiral out of control.
Additional reporting by Diana Al Rifai. Follow her on Twitter @D_R_23