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US warns Russia over civilian deaths in Syria

Secretary of State John Kerry says the US is concerned that hundreds of residents have been killed by Russian air raids. He conveyed Washington's worries in a phone call to his counterpart in Moscow.

Amid what he described as "indiscriminate" Russian airstrikes in Syria from "credible human rights organizations," US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said on Tuesday that Washington had raised the issue with Moscow.

"We've seen a marked and troubling increase in reports of these civilian casualties since Russia commenced its air campaign," he added. The Kremlin ordered its airstrikes in Syria on September 30.

Residents targeted

Toner said that more than 130,000 Syrians had been forced to flee their homes during the first six weeks of Russian air bombardments and that hundreds of civilians had been killed, as medical facilities, schools and markets were hit.

He told reporters that John Kerry had spoken of Washington's displeasure in a phone chat with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday. He said Russia's action is undermining hopes for a ceasefire between Bashar al-Assad's government and leading rebel groups.

Russia's aerial bombardment

Russia launched its own airstrikes in Syria - claiming it was targeting "Islamic State" - on September 30

Moscow has angrily denied reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Syrian rights groups that its air campaign in support of the Assad regime is hitting civilians, insisting that it is targeting the "Islamic State" (IS) group.

No combatants?

An

Amnesty International report last week

cited evidence of

Russian use of cluster munitions

and unguided bombs in populated residential areas.

Watch video 01:21

Amnesty: Russian bombing of Syria may be war crime

Toner also blamed Russia for an airstrike that killed the

top Syrian rebel commander Zahran Alloush,

who led one of the most powerful groups battling Assad's forces. The Syrian regime said it carried out the killing.

Washington had welcomed his group's support for US-Russian mediation efforts with Assad and opposing the Islamic State and believes that his killing may prolong the nearly five-year-old conflict.

Hopes for a truce

Peace talks are due to start in Geneva in the last week of January, subject to a number of hurdles being overcome.

The opposition must first announce its delegation to the negotiations, and a host of rival countries must agree on a list of rebel militias that would be welcomed into a political process.

mm/bk (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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