Rus­sian jets strike US-backed fight­ers

Arab Times - - FRONT PAGE -

BEIRUT, Sept 16, (Agen­cies): A US-backed force bat­tling the Is­lamic State group in eastern Syria ac­cused Rus­sian war­planes on Satur­day of bomb­ing its fight­ers for the first time in the com­plex war.

But Rus­sia’s mil­i­tary spokesman de­nied tar­get­ing the Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces, an al­liance of Arab and Kur­dish fight­ers sup­ported by Washington.

“This is not pos­si­ble. Why would we bomb them?” mil­i­tary spokesman Igor Konashenkov told AFP at the Hmeimim base, Moscow’s main out­post for its air op­er­a­tions in Syria.

The SDF and Rus­sian­backed Syr­ian gov­ern­ment forces are con­duct­ing par­al­lel but sep­a­rate of­fen­sives against IS in the strate­gic and oil-rich eastern prov­ince of Deir Ez­zor.

Regime troops are wag­ing an as­sault for the pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal, Deir Ez­zor city, while SDF fight­ers bat­tle the ji­hadists fur­ther east across the Euphrates River.

The SDF ear­lier said six of its fight­ers were wounded in Rus­sian and regime bomb­ing of an in­dus­trial area north­east of the city, about 7 kms (four miles) from the east bank of the Euphrates.

“At 3:30 am (0030 GMT) on Sept 16, 2017, our forces east of the Euphrates River were tar­geted by Rus­sian and Syr­ian regime war­planes in the AlSi­naaiya area,” the SDF said.

“At a time when the SDF’s brave forces are scor­ing great vic­to­ries against IS in Raqqa and Deir Ez­zor ... some par­ties are try­ing to cre­ate ob­sta­cles to our progress,” the state­ment said.

The SDF’s as­saults against IS in Deir Ez­zor and in Raqa fur­ther up the Euphrates Val­ley are both backed by the US-led coali­tion, while Syr­ian regime troops are get­ting air cover from Rus­sia.

SDF fight­ers say they not co­or­di­nat­ing their Deir Ez­zor op­er­a­tions with the gov­ern­ment or Rus­sia.

But the coali­tion says there is a de-con­flic­tion line to pre­vent the two of­fen­sives from clash­ing.

The line agreed be­tween Rus­sia, the regime, the SDF and the coali­tion runs from Raqqa prov­ince south­east along the Euphrates River to Deir Ez­zor.

The skies over Syria have be­come in­creas­ingly con­gested as the six-year con­flict has dragged on, with war­planes from the coali­tion, the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment and Rus­sia all car­ry­ing out air strikes.

Con­fronta­tions be­tween the war­planes have been rare, but in June a US fighter jet shot

down a Syr­ian war­plane ac­cused of bomb­ing SDF units in the north.

On Fri­day, top ad­viser to Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad Bouthaina Shaa­ban told Al-Ma­nar tele­vi­sion that it was up to Rus­sia and the US to see that the SDF and Syria’s army do not clash.

“Whether it’s the SDF, DAESH, or any il­le­git­i­mate for­eign forces ... we will work against them un­til all our land is lib­er­ated,” she told the chan­nel which is run by al­lied Le­banese move­ment Hezbol­lah.

“It’s the role of Rus­sia and Amer­ica to see that this con­fronta­tion doesn’t take place,” she said.

Syria’s cri­sis erupted with protests de­mand­ing the ouster of As­sad in 2011, but it has since mor­phed into a com­plex, multi-front war that has killed 330,000 peo­ple and dis­placed mil­lions.

Syr­ian Kurds take part in a rally in the north­east­ern Syr­ian city of Qamishli on Sept 15, in sup­port of an in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum in Ar­bil. Iraqi Kur­dish law­mak­ers ap­proved hold­ing an in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum on Sept 25 as mem­bers of the op­po­si­tion boy­cotted

the par­lia­ment’s first ses­sion in two years.

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