Monitor: Russian airstrikes killed 9,300 in past year
BEIRUT >> A year of Russian airstrikes on areas outside government control in Syria have killed more than 9,000 people, displaced tens of thousands and caused widespread destruction, an opposition monitoring group said Friday.
On Sept. 30 last year, Russia began an air campaign backing the ground forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad, turning the balance of power in his favor in many areas — including the northern province of Aleppo and the suburbs of the capital Damascus.
Opposition activists have blamed Russia for most of the recent airstrikes against rebel-held neighborhoods of east Aleppo city that have killed more than 320 civilians in the past two weeks and demolished many buildings.
The anniversary came as violence in different parts of Syria claimed more lives Friday, mainly in Aleppo city where at least 12 people were killed and dozens more wounded.
A Syrian opposition monitoring group that tracks Syria’s civil war said a year of Russian airstrikes have killed 9,364 people in the war-torn country.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the dead include 3,804 civilians, among them 906 children. The dead also include 2,746 members of the Islamic State group and 2,814 from other rebel and militant groups, including al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria.
Russia on Friday is marking one year since it launched its air campaign in Syria in support of Assad. In light of that, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a warning to Russians abroad about possible “provocations,” urging them to exercise caution.
A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia’s involvement in Syria is justified by the fact that militants have not managed to capture the capital, Damascus. Marking the 1st anniversary, Dmitry Peskov said that Putin never gave a timeline for how long the bombing mission might last and still won’t.
Russia’s declared goal was to support the Syrian government of Russia’s long-term ally Assad and Peskov insisted that in that respect the operation has been a success.
If it wasn’t for the Russian involvement, the Islamic State group and other “terrorists” would have been “sitting in Damascus,” he told reporters.
Regarding figures cited by the Observatory on casualties as a result of the airstrikes, he said he would not comment reports by “a group based in the U.K.” The Observatory relies on a network of activists on the ground inside Syria.
Also Friday, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow is doing all it can together with the Syrian government to help the U.N. arrange weekly pauses in Aleppo to deliver humanitarian goods. “It’s the Nusra-controlled people in eastern Aleppo who refuse,” he said referring to the al-Qaida-linked Fatah al-Sham Front, which used to be known as the Nusra Front.
Speaking to BBC about his country’s military operations in Syria, Lavrov said: “We are not using any munition which is prohibited by the United Nations. I can assure.”
The backers of the opposition blasted the Russian intervention.
“Russia claims to be committed to a political solution in Syria, yet since its military intervention, the brutal Assad regime still clings to power. Russia’s action has not curbed the regime’s atrocities,” said Britain’s Special Representative to Syria, Gareth Bayley. “Russia has proved to be either unwilling or unable to influence Assad and must bear its responsibility for the Assad regime’s atrocities.”