Rus­sian navy fires cruise mis­siles into east­ern Syria

Starkville Daily News - - FORUM - By NATALIYA VASILYEVA and PHILIP ISSA As­so­ci­ated Press

ABOARD THE AD­MI­RAL ESSEN — Rus­sia fired a salvo of cruise mis­siles from the Mediter­ranean on Thurs­day and said they struck Is­lamic State tar­gets in east­ern Syria. Ac­tivists there said at least 20 civil­ians were killed in what they de­scribed a “fa­nat­i­cal” bom­bard­ment — blam­ing some of it on Rus­sia and some on the United States.

It was not clear whether there was a con­nec­tion be­tween the Rus­sian mil­i­tary strikes and the ac­tivists' ac­counts, re­flect­ing the chal­lenge of ver­i­fy­ing the con­flict­ing claims in the hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment of Syria's civil war, now in its sev­enth year.

The seven Kal­ibr cruise mis­siles, launched from the sub­marines Ve­liky Nov­gorod and Kolpino, hit IS in­stal­la­tions in Deir el-Zour prov­ince, the Rus­sian De­fense Min­istry said. The prov­ince is where forces backed sep­a­rately by Wash­ing­ton and Moscow are rac­ing to seize ter­ri­tory in the ji­hadist group's shrink­ing Euphrates River val­ley do­main.

But Turkey-based ac­tivist Omar Abou Layla said their lo­cal con­tacts re­ported “fa­nat­i­cal” lev­els of bom­bard­ment on three IS-held towns and vil­lages along the val­ley — far more than could be ac­counted for by seven mis­siles — in­clud­ing an at­tack on the na­tional hos­pi­tal in the IS strong­hold of al-Mayadeen, where six civil­ians were re­ported killed. Abou Layla put the toll at 20 killed across the prov­ince. He added that the pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal, also called Deir el-Zour, suf­fered heavy airstrikes as well.

Rus­sian-backed pro-gov­ern­ment forces have been on the of­fen­sive to take back the city af­ter break­ing an IS siege there last week. It was the first time re­in­force­ments were able to reach the city in nearly three years.

The Bri­tain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said at least 39 peo­ple were killed and over 100 wounded in strikes in the river val­ley, in­clud­ing some against hos­pi­tals and ferry cross­ings. The mon­i­tor­ing group said the U.S.-led in­ter­na­tional coali­tion, which is sup­port­ing non­govern­ment forces, was be­hind some of the strikes.

It has been im­pos­si­ble to ver­ify the claims in­de­pen­dently. Rus­sia and the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment only al­lows jour­nal­ists into the coun­try on care­fully or­ches­trated me­dia tours meant to show­case their might and le­git­i­macy in the con­flict; the U.S. does not ac­cept em­bed­ded jour­nal­ists at all.

With pro-gov­ern­ment forces al­ready in­side the city of Deir el-Zour, the chief U.S. part­ners in Syria — the Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces — launched their own cam­paign to take what they can in the val­ley.

All sides say they are fight­ing ter­ror­ists in the en­ergy-rich re­gion that bor­ders Iraq.

Ac­tivists said the cam­paigns are killing scores of civil­ians. The Ob­ser­va­tory said it has doc­u­mented 106 civil­ian deaths in airstrikes since Sun­day; Abou Layla says his or­ga­ni­za­tion, Deir Ez­zor 24, has recorded 90 fa­tal­i­ties in the same pe­riod.

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