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Putin, Hollande meet to resolve differences over Syria airstrikes

Russian President Vladimir Putin met with his French counterpart Francois Hollande to talk about the two countries' military operations in Syria. Russia has said its airstrikes in Syria are targeting IS militants.

Vladimir Putin and Francois Hollande's meeting on Friday was to focus only on Ukraine, but

Russia's military operations in Syria

and the French airstrikes shifted the emphasis to the Middle Eastern country.

The two leaders tried to narrow differences over political transformation in Damascus and discuss ways to protect civilians dying in the crossfire, a senior French official told DPA news agency.

Who did Moscow target?

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, Moscow's planes carried out 18 sorties in the last 24 hours and bombed seven sites overnight. The latest strikes targeted only "Islamic State" (IS) hideouts, officials said.

Activists in Syria said militants did not hold Friday prayers in several mosques in the northern city of Raqqa, an IS stronghold. Russia also carried out a drone strike on an IS-run camp near the city, the British based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told journalists. No casualties were reported.

However, a joint statement released by Turkey, France, Britain, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the US said Moscow's airborne attacks, which took place in Hama, Homs and Idlib led to civilian casualties and "did not target" IS.

The allies expressed concern that Russia's military intervention in Syria would "only fuel more extremism and radicalization."

Karte Russische Präsenz und Luftangriffe in Syrien englisch NEU!

Russia operating on Syria's request

There was no debate on

France's airstrikes, which began on Sunday

. French fighter jets hit an IS training camp this week and President Hollande said more strikes could be expected in the coming days.

Western leaders have furthermore accused Moscow of targeting Syria's rebels, making Syrian President Bashar Assad's job of wiping out dissenters easier. Putin is a close ally of Assad, whom Western countries see as a dictator stifling democratic voices in his territory.

Moscow has denied the charges, insisting that its motive in Syria is similar to that of the US coalition which is conducting airstrikes against IS militants in the region.

Russian rocket system in Ukraine

The talks between the two leaders come at a time when the Ukraine problem has been a source of tension between the West and Russia. On Friday, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said that its officials monitoring the Ukraine ceasefire reported seeing a mobile TOS-1 "Buratino" rocket system.

The Buratino has warheads which spread an inflammable liquid around the target and then ignite it. The rocket can destroy several city blocks in one strike.

"We saw the weapon on that training ground," Alexander Hug, the OSCE's deputy chief monitor in the area told Reuters news agency. The weapons system was "indiscriminate and very destructive," he added.

mg/kms (dpa, AP, Reuters)

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