Rocket attack hits Russian embassy in Syria

Insurgents fired rockets at Russia’s Embassy in Damascus Tuesday in what Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called an act or terror meant to intimidate those who support the fight against Islamic State militants.

The two rockets struck the embassy compound as hundreds of people rallied outside in support of Russia’s two-week-old military campaign in Syria.

There was no immediate report any casualties.

Meanwhile, U.N. envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura is holding talks Tuesday in Russia as part of an effort to forge an understanding between Russian and U.S. officials and also move toward a political process to end the Syrian conflict.

Later, De Mistura plans to fly to Washington for talks there as well.

He said during a briefing Monday in Geneva that while fighting terrorists in Syria is important, there also needs to be a parallel political process and the involvement of regional players in order to resolve the crisis that has persisted since March 2011.

“Let us remember that most of the refugees left Syria well before ISIS took over almost one-third of the country,” he said, referring to an acronym for the Islamic State group. “In fact, they left because of the fighting between the government and what was at the time called the mainstream opposition.”

‘New dynamics’

De Mistura said Russia’s military action has brought “new dynamics” to the situation in Syria.

He said he planned to discuss medical evacuations for dozens of wounded people in northwestern Syria as well as a number of other urgent issues related to the conflict and the escalation since Russia began airstrikes two weeks ago.

On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said advances have been made in working with Washington on fighting in Syria.

“We still don’t 100 percent share the same view on the situation up to every step with our partners in the region, with the Americans, with our other colleagues, but we absolutely have progress,” Lavrov said.

The talks come as Syria sees its heaviest fighting in weeks.

Syrian government troops advanced under cover of Russian airstrikes Monday and the United States airdropped 50 tons of small-arms ammunition to rebels in northern Syria.

Government forces battled rebels in a strategic area in the central province of Hama, hoping to regain the Sahl al-Ghab plain.

Target of fighting

The fighting was focused on the village of Kfar Nabudeh with Syria’s army command saying it had captured the village, extending its advance toward the key Damascus-Aleppo Highway. Activists said the rebels repelled the attack.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the clashes were the “fiercest” since the Russian air campaign began at the end of September.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said its aircraft hit 53 targets in Syria in the past 24 hours, in Hama, Homs, Latakia and Idlib provinces.

The U.S.-led, anti-Islamic State coalition forces continued to strike Islamic State targets Monday, destroying terrorist tactical units near al-Hasakah and Washiya.

The coalition conducted 18 strikes in Iraq, including near Bayji, Fallujah and Mosul, according to the U.S. Central Command, which overseas U.S. forces in the Middle East.

US arms drop

The U.S. airdrop of small arms Sunday reached “Syrian Arab groups whose leaders were appropriately vetted by the United States and have been fighting to remove ISIL,” said coalition spokesman Colonel Steve Warren, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.

Warren would not give further details about the groups or their locations in Syria due to “operational security.”

A U.S. defense official described the airdrop as a new “normal” occurrence that coalition forces would continue to conduct “as needed.”

The airdrop supports the Pentagon’s recent decision to “pause” its failed Syrian rebel train and equip program.

Instead of training and equipping moderate rebel fighters outside of Syria, White House officials announced Friday the program would ramp up materiel support to trusted units fighting on Syrian battlefields, while training only rebel leaders in Turkey.

The drop is a reminder of an operation last year when U.S. forces airdropped supplies to Syrian Kurds battling Islamic State forces for the town of Kobani. The group was able to successfully repel Islamic State fighters from the town.

“This airdrop seeks to build on the success those forces have had clearing ISIL from Syrian territory,” Warren said.

‘Worrying elements’

The European Council on Monday called for Russia to “immediately” end military attacks in Syria that do not target Islamic State or other U.N.-designated terrorist organizations.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Russia’s military action in Syria is a “game-changer” that has “some very worrying elements.”

Before an EU foreign ministers meeting Monday in Luxembourg, Mogherini said actions against Islamic State militants have to clearly be carried out against that group and other terrorists defined by the United Nations.

She said she believes the European Union, Russia and the United States have common ground in Syria based on U.N. Security Council resolutions and a U.N. framework, but that their action must be coordinated.

Otherwise, she said, there are “extremely dangerous” risks, particularly militarily.

Lisa Schlein and Chris Hannas contributed to this report.