Mon­i­tor: Rus­sian airstrikes killed 9,300 in past year

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - WEATHER - By Bassem Mroue The As­so­ci­ated Press

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.”

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