Rus­sia de­nies deaths in Idlib

Arab Times - - FRONT PAGE -

MOS­COW, Sept 28, (Agen­cies): The Rus­sian De­fence Min­istry on Thursday de­nied al­le­ga­tions that Rus­sian and Syr­ian jets had killed at least 150 civil­ians in over a week of bomb­ing, say­ing it had been care­ful not to hit civil­ians.

The min­istry was re­spond­ing to com­ments made on Wed­nes­day by op­po­si­tion res­cue work­ers who ac­cused Mos­cow and Da­m­as­cus of killing at least 150 civil­ians and of in­jur­ing dozens in air strikes in Idlib Prov­ince.

Ma­jor-Gen­eral Igor Konashenkov said in a state­ment that the op­po­si­tion-run Civil De­fence group which made the al­le­ga­tions was made up of “char­la­tans” who could not be re­garded as ob­jec­tive sources of reliable in­for­ma­tion.

“Rus­sian air force planes do not strike res­i­den­tial districts in pop­u­lated ar­eas in or­der to avoid ca­su­al­ties,” Konashenkov said.

“Tar­gets are ter­ror­ist bases, ar­moured ve­hi­cles and am­mu­ni­tion sto­ries which are al­ways iden­ti­fied by drones and al­ways con­firmed by other chan­nels be­fore­hand.”

He said Rus­sian planes op­er­at­ing in Idlib Prov­ince had only tar­geted mil­i­tant fighters and their equip­ment in the last week.

Ear­lier on Wed­nes­day, op­po­si­tion res­cue work­ers said 150 civil­ians were killed in Rus­sian, Syr­ian raids on Idlib.

Rus­sian and Syr­ian jets killed at least 150 civil­ians and in­jured dozens in over a week of heavy bomb­ing that shat­tered a six-month halt in in­ten­sive ae­rial raids in op­po­si­tion-held north­west­ern parts of Syria, op­po­si­tion res­cue work­ers said on Wed­nes­day.

“We have pulled 152 bod­ies and we have res­cued 279 civil­ians since the Rus­sian and regime bomb­ing cam­paign,” said Salem Abu al Azem, a se­nior res­cue worker from the op­po­si­tion-run Civil De­fence in Idlib, adding bod­ies were still be­ing pulled out of the wreck­age of build­ings flattened by air raids.

Mean­while, Is­lamic State mil­i­tants on Thursday at­tacked a vil­lage in eastern Syria re­cently cap­tured by gov­ern­ment forces, threat­en­ing to cut the main high­way link­ing the cap­i­tal, Da­m­as­cus, with the city of Deir Ez­zor, Syr­ian op­po­si­tion ac­tivists said.

The at­tack on al-Shola vil­lage was one of the strong­est staged by IS in the re­gion re­cently, three weeks af­ter Syr­ian troops broke a nearly three-year long siege of parts of Deir Ez­zor, the cap­i­tal of the oil-rich prov­ince that car­ries the same name.

It was also a sur­prise as IS mil­i­tants have been squeezed in the prov­ince by Rus­sian-backed Syr­ian troops and US-backed mem­bers of the Kur­dish-led Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces.

The Britain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said al-Shola was un­der at­tack on Thursday. Omar Abou Leila, of the mon­i­tor­ing group DeirEz­zor 24, and the IS-linked Aa­maq news agency said the ex­trem­ists cap­tured the vil­lage.

Abou Laila said IS fighters ap­pear to have come from the town of Mayadeen, one of the largest re­main­ing strongholds of the mil­i­tants in Syria.

Ear­lier Thursday, the Ob­ser­va­tory said gov­ern­ment forces have laid siege to ISheld neigh­bor­hoods of Deir Ez­zor but Abou Leila could not con­firm that.

The race for con­trol of the ter­ri­tory and re­sources in this prov­ince bor­der­ing Iraq has caused fric­tion be­tween gov­ern­ment forces and the Kur­dish-led SDF. The US-backed fighters say gov­ern­ment forces and Rus­sian war­planes have at­tacked them. Rus­sia warned it would re­tal­i­ate af­ter it said Syr­ian gov­ern­ment troops came un­der fire from the US-backed forces.

Rus­sia and the United States say they are work­ing out a mech­a­nism to avoid fric­tion in the com­mon fight against Is­lamic State mil­i­tants.

Mean­while, Hamoudeh Sab­bagh, a lit­tle-known leg­is­la­tor, was elected speaker of par­lia­ment, the state news agency SANA reported in Da­m­as­cus. The new Peo­ple’s Assem­bly chief won 193 votes, while his clos­est op­po­nent gar­nered only 10.

Sab­bagh re­places Hadiyah Ab­bas, who was re­moved in June with a ma­jor­ity of votes be­cause of “un­demo­cratic be­hav­iors,” ac­cord­ing to a state­ment.

Pro-gov­ern­ment web­sites said Sab­bagh is a mem­ber of Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s rul­ing Baath party and was elected to par­lia­ment in 2012.

As­sad’s fam­ily has ruled Syria since 1970, and so far the Syr­ian pres­i­dent has re­mained in power de­spite the civil war, now in its sev­enth year, sparked by an up­ris­ing against him.

The United Na­tions con­demned air raids on five hos­pi­tals and two hu­man­i­tar­ian ware­houses in Idlib, Syria, this week and called for set­ting up a sys­tem so war­ring sides would pro­tect civil­ians and med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties near “ter­ror­ist” groups.

Jan Ege­land, UN hu­man­i­tar­ian ad­viser on Syria, said it was not clear who had car­ried out the at­tacks, but said it was part of an es­ca­lat­ing trend to at­tack “hu­man­i­tar­ian life­lines” in­clud­ing hos­pi­tals, am­bu­lances and health work­ers.

“We ur­gently need a work­able and re­spected sys­tem of no­ti­fi­ca­tion for these pro­tected lo­cal­i­ties that armed ac­tors will re­spect,” he told re­porters, al­though he con­ceded that some aid agen­cies were re­luc­tant to share their GPS co­or­di­nates with the war­ring sides.

The UN’s top en­voy for Syria an­nounced Wed­nes­day that new talks be­tween Syria’s gov­ern­ment and op­po­si­tion will take place “in about a month” and said this eighth round must fi­nally move to “gen­uine ne­go­ti­a­tions on the po­lit­i­cal fu­ture” of the war-rav­aged coun­try.

Staffan de Mis­tura told the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil that both sides should use the com­ing month to cre­ate con­di­tions for the talks in Geneva “to be mean­ing­ful,” and to par­tic­i­pate “with­out pre­con­di­tions.”

His an­nounce­ment that talks will start no later than the end of Oc­to­ber or very early in Novem­ber comes as the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment re­verses mil­i­tary losses in much of the coun­try’s strate­gi­cally im­por­tant west and as for­eign gov­ern­ments cut sup­port for rebel forces.

With the civil war now more than 6-1/2 years old, Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad and his al­lies have taken con­trol of the coun­try’s four largest cities and its Mediter­ranean coast. Backed by Rus­sian air power and Ira­nian-spon­sored mili­tias, pro-gov­ern­ment forces have marched across en­ergy-rich Homs prov­ince and were fight­ing Wed­nes­day on the east bank of the Euphrates River.

De Mis­tura told the coun­cil that fighters for the Is­lamic State ex­trem­ist group are “be­ing beaten back.” He pointed to the breaking of a three-year siege of Deir Ez­zor city by IS, also known as ISIS, and the US-led in­ter­na­tional coali­tion tak­ing con­trol of most of the city of Raqqa, once the de facto cap­i­tal of the mil­i­tant group’s self­styled caliphate.

He pointed to the creation of four de-es­ca­la­tion zones as “an im­por­tant next step” in ef­forts to re­duce vi­o­lence.

These zones should be a pre­cur­sor “to a truly na­tion­wide cease-fire” and ac­tion to pro­vide hu­man­i­tar­ian aid to all in need, he said. Talks in Kaza­khstan’s cap­i­tal of As­tana, which have fo­cused on lo­cal cease-fires and deesca­la­tion zones, “should be seen as lay­ing the ba­sis for a re­newed Geneva process,” he added.

De Mis­tura called on both Syria’s gov­ern­ment and op­po­si­tion to use the weeks be­fore the next talks “to as­sess the sit­u­a­tion with re­al­ism and re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

He said the di­vided op­po­si­tion has “a duty to sig­nal that it wants to speak with one voice and a com­mon plat­form in gen­uine ne­go­ti­a­tions with the gov­ern­ment.” The gov­ern­ment has a duty “to gen­uinely ne­go­ti­ate with the op­po­si­tion,” he said.

A Rus­sian gen­eral killed in Syria had been sec­onded to the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment as a mil­i­tary com­man­der, Rus­sia’s mil­i­tary chief of staff said on Wed­nes­day.

Mos­cow has long been a staunch ally of Syria, but the role of the de­ceased gen­eral re­veals the ex­tent to which Rus­sia has be­come an in­te­gral part of Pres­i­dent Bashar al As­sad’s rul­ing sys­tem.

Lieu­tenant-Gen­eral Valery As­apov, 51, was killed on Satur­day by shelling from Is­lamic State po­si­tions near Deir Ez­zor. He was the chief of staff of Rus­sian forces de­ployed to the coun­try and later be­came the com­man­der of Syria’s Fifth Corps of vol­un­teers, chief of gen­eral staff Valery Gerasi­mov said.

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