Russian jets pound ISIS capital in Syria as coalition voices anger

Russian sorties over Syria
A bomb explosión in Syria, captured from footage from the Russian Defense Ministry. AP photo.
A bomb explosión in Syria, captured from footage from the Russian Defense Ministry. AP photo.

PARIS, France – Russian and Syrian warplanes pounded Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) targets in several provinces in Syria on Friday, including the city of Raqqa which the militants regard as their headquarters.

Meanwhile in Paris, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his French counterpart Francois Hollande met to discuss Moscow’s stepped up military involvement in Syria, which began this week with Russian bombardment of ISIS militants and opponents of the Syrian regime.

The third day of Russian airstrikes in Syria prompted an angry response by the US-led coalition that has been arrayed against ISIS for more than a year, but without any great success.

The US has expressed deep concern that Russia has been targeting opposition forces that Washington supports against the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“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,” said the coalition, which is led by the United States and backed by many European countries, Turkey and several Arab states.

“We express our deep concern with regard to the Russian military build-up in Syria and especially ‎the attacks by the Russian Air Force on Hama, Homs and Idlib since yesterday which led to civilian casualties and did not target Daesh,” it said, referring to ISIS by its Arabic acronym.

Russia acknowledged 18 airstrikes against 12 targets on Friday, but it has denied reports of civilian casualties.

The Russian Defense Ministry said its jets had struck an ISIS training camp near Raqqa, and that raids also hit an ISIS command post, a training camp and dozens of vehicles equipped with machine guns in central Hama province.

The official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) quoted sources as saying that a command headquarters and a signal center in Daret Ezza, in the countryside of Aleppo, were destroyed in Russian and Syrian airstrikes.

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It reported raids in Idlib, Hama and the city of Palmyra, and air strikes in Aleppo and Quneitra that targeted Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria.

Sana said that two convoys of armored vehicles belonging to militant groups were destroyed in Aleppo, on a road used by the groups as a supply route from Turkey.

In Paris, Hollande and Putin tried to narrow differences between Moscow and the coalition over the Syrian conflict, which have intensified with Russian involvement.

Russia supports Assad, while France and other Western countries, which want him out, have been focusing their attacks on ISIS and backing the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and other so-called moderate groups.

The official Russia Today website quoted Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov as saying Russia aims to destroy the ISIS infrastructure, including command, communications and surveillance centers as well as  weapons, ammunition depots, and bomb-making factories.

The spokesman reiterated that Syrian troops are carrying out ground operations without the participation of Russian forces.

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