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Russia launches new airstrikes in Syria, denies criticism

Moscow has insisted that its airstrikes in Syria are targeting the same groups as those being carried out by Washington and its allies. The Kremlin has said attacks are being coordinated with Syria's defense ministry.

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Russia launches new strikes

Russia insisted on Thursday it had carried out a series of airstrikes against its intended terrorist groups in Syria, denying accusations that it had not coordinated the attacks with other foreign governments also engaged in military operations there.

Russian airstrikes began on Wednesday in what President Vladimir Putin termed a "pre-emptive strike" against the terrorist organization calling itself "Islamic State."

Russian jets struck eight positions on the first day, followed by air strikes against additional targets in a northwestern area of Syria on Thursday.

Defense Ministry Igor Konashenkov said Russian aircraft damaged or destroyed a dozen targets in Syria belonging to the Islamic State group including a command post and a pair of ammo dumps. Kremlin officials acknowledged, however, that other unidentified groups were being targeted as well.

Konashenkov said Russian Su-25M and Su-25 jets flew 20 sorties between Wednesday and Thursday morning, and he insisted that civilian areas were not targeted.

US: Russia bombing rebel forces

US officials have expressed concern about the airstrikes, with Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Wednesday saying that some of the targets might not have been affiliated with those terrorist groups. US Secretary of State John Kerry echoed that statement at a UN Security Council meeting.

"It is one thing obviously to be targeting ISIL. We are concerned obviously if that is not what is happening," he said, using an alternative acronym for "IS."

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov implicitly admitted Thursday that Russia was targeting other groups aside from the so-called Islamic State, saying it operates according to a list apparently agreed with the Syrian government.

"These organizations are known," he was quoted as saying by Russian media. "The targets are determined in coordination with the Syrian defense ministry."

Meanwhile, a rebel leader whose group receives covert support from the US Central Intelligence Agency, Qatar and Saudi Arabia says its training camp was hit by Russian airstrikes Thursday.

Hassan Haj Ali, head of the Liwa Suqour al-Jabal rebel group, told Reuters that the camp in Idlib province was struck by around 20 missiles in two separate air attacks.

And the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday's airstrikes in the central province of Hama hit locations of the US-backed rebel group, Tajamu Alezzah, as well as the province of Idlib, which is controlled by a coalition of rebel groups that include al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra. The group said Tajamu Alezzah was also targeted on Wednesday.

In the past, Washington and Moscow have agreed on the need to destroy "IS" and al-Nusra Front but continue to have profound disagreements over the legitimacy of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Russia chasing own interests

Norbert Röttgen, a member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and the chairman of the Bundestag's Committee on Foreign Affairs, told DW that Russia seems more interested in promoting its own interests than in fighting terrorists in Syria.

"Yesterday everyone saw that Russia is not fighting ISIS but fighting the opposition of Assad," he said. "This makes clear that Russia is pursuing its own goals in the region and nothing else."

On Thursday, Saudi Arabia, a key opponent of Assad, stepped in as well, calling for Russia to put an end to airstrikes and accusing the country of failing to hit 'IS' targets.

"The delegation of my country expresses its profound concern regarding the military operations which Russian forces have carried out in Homs and Hama today, places where ISIS forces are not present," said Saudi diplomat Abdullah al-Mouallimi, Reuters news agency reported.

"These attacks led to a number of innocent victims. We demand it stop immediately and not recur," he added.

blc/sms (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)

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