The anti-IS coalition has called on Russia to stop airstrikes on Syrian rebels and focus on fighting the Islamic State. A senior Russian lawmaker said the Moscow's airstrikes in Syria would last three or four months.
Turkey and key members of the US-led anti-Islamic State coalition have called on Russia to halt airstrikes on coalition backed rebels and focus on the "Islamic State," amid reports the airstrikes have targeted areas where the terrorist group does not operate.
"We express our deep concern with regard to the Russian military build-up in Syria and especially the attacks by the Russian Air Force on Hama, Homs and Idlib since yesterday which led to civilian casualties and did not target Da'esh," France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the UK and US said in a joint statement, using the Arabic name of the IS terrorist group.
The statement, which was posted on the Turkish Foreign Ministry website and confirmed by France, said Russian airstrikes on rebels would only escalate the crisis in Syria and "fuel more extremism and radicalization."
Russia has said it is targeting terrorist groups, including the Islamic State and Syria's al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front, a rival of the Islamic State. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov denied allegations his country is targeting US-backed rebels amid concerns in Washington that Russia is only taking action in Syria to prop up the Assad regime - not to fight terrorism.
Alexei Pushkov, the head the Russian parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, said on Friday the Russian operation would last "three to four months" and was likely to intensify.
Moscow continued on Friday to carry out airstrikes in Syria, claiming to have bombed multiple Islamic State targets.
Talbiseh hit, 'no ISIS'
An activist in the town of Talbiseh north of Homs told DW in a phone interview on Friday that two Russian planes had targeted the city on Wednesday around 11 am.
He described “huge explosions,” which had destroyed several buildings in a civilian area.
“They hit normal streets, which were completely destroyed. It was horrible, there was blood everywhere. It took hours to pull the dead people from out of the rubble.”
The activist, who chose to stay anonymous, told DW that Talbiseh, which lies next to a main road connecting the two cities of Homs and Hama, had most probably been targeted for purely “strategic reasons” to secure the road for the Assad regime. The town, he said, was completely controlled by the Free Syrian Army, “there’s no ISIS here, none at all.”
A small group of IS fighters, which had been located some 10 kilometers to the north of the town had withdrawn weeks ago, he added.
A Russian spy plane, he said, had been flying over the town ever since Wednesday morning. “I’m afraid they might attack again.”
Airstrikes on Raqqa
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said the airstrikes had hit "rebel and Islamist factions" and overnight airstrikes on Raqqa, the self-declared IS capital, had killed 12 militants.
The US-backed rebel group Suqur al-Jabal claimed its headquarters was attacked earlier in Idlib, while a Syrian security source told the AFP news agency that the airstrikes also targeted the main Islamist umbrella group in northern Syria, the Army of Conquest.
Army of Conquest includes Ahrar al-Sham, one of the largest Islamist factions in northern Syria, and al-Nusra Front.
At least 30 civilians have been killed since Russia started bombing on Wednesday, the monitoring group said. Videos of Russian bombings and pictures posted online indicate the air force is not using precision guided bombs.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called reports of civilian casualties "information warfare."
Complications for Turkey's Syria policy
Turkey has been one of the biggest backers of rebels seeking to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, funneling weapons and supplies to various rebel factions, particularly the Islamist Ahrar al-Sham.
Russia's decision to send military support to the Assad regime has complicated Turkey's Syria policy, as the groups it backs have come under fire and the prospects of a "safe zone" along the border become increasingly slim.
Ankara joined the US-led coalition in August and gave permission for the US to launch airstrikes from the Incirlik airbase in southern Turkey. But Turkey has conducted only limited airstrikes on the terrorist group itself. It has instead focused on fighting against Kurdish militants, the PKK.
cw/sms, ipj (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)