Coalition urges Russia to stop targeting Syria opposition

Russia carried out more airstrikes in Syria Friday, as a U.S-led coalition urged Moscow to halt any attacks on the Syrian opposition and focus on Islamic State targets.

“These military actions constitute a further escalation and will only fuel more extremism and radicalization,” said the coalition statement, which was posted on the Turkish Foreign Ministry’s website.

The coaltion that includes U.S, Britain, Turkey, France, Germany, Qatar and Saudi Arabia has been carrying out airstikes against IS targets for about a year.

Putin in Paris

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to meet in Paris Friday with French President Francois Hollande to discuss the conflict in Syria.

Russia, which began its air campaign Wednesday, has said it targeting Islamic State militants, but the United States accuses Russia of using the campaign to back the government of Bashar al-Assad.

On Thursday, Russian jets hit IS targets but, according to observers, they also bombed fighters backed by the U.S.

The Kremlin has acknowledged it was taking aim at “a list” of groups beyond the extremist group. “These organizations are well-known and the targets are chosen in coordination with the armed forces of Syria,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Thursday.

‘Indiscriminate’ strikes

The White House was critical of the strikes.

“The fact is that carrying out indiscriminate military operations against the Syrian opposition is dangerous for Russia,” spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Thursday.

Earnest also said that what he called Russia’s “indiscriminate” strikes would drive moderate elements of the Syrian opposition toward extremism, and ultimately exacerbate extremism inside Russia.

The two sides have held military-to-military talks on Syria.

The Pentagon says U.S. and Russian militaries will hold another teleconference in the coming days on ways they can avoid firing on each other in Syria.

Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said an hourlong conversation between the two sides Thursday was cordial. He said the Russian side made clear that strikes in Syria would continue, while the American representative “noted U.S. concerns that areas targeted so far are not ISIL [Islamic State] strongholds.

White House spokesman Earnest said he could not confirm reports that Iranian troops were on the ground in Syria and preparing for a ground offensive, but he said that if the reports were true, they would be an “apt and powerful” illustration of how Russia’s military operations have worsened the conflict.


(Photo: Russian defence ministry)