Russia says Syria 'opposition' guided warplanes to bombing targets
Russia said its jets bombed 24 targets in Syria Tuesday using coordinates supplied by "opposition representatives" -- the first time Moscow has claimed to work with opposition groups since it began its air offensive.
"The coordinates of all of these targets were given to us by opposition representatives," senior military official Andrei Kartapolov said, without specifying the groups involved.
Russia announced contacts with the Syrian opposition as Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was due to meet the United Nations' Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura in Moscow on Wednesday.
Moscow said it had set up "working coordination groups" aimed at bolstering the fight against the Islamic State, but said the identities of those involved were being kept secret.
"Such close cooperation will allow us to unite the efforts of the government troops with other patriotic forces in Syria that used to be in the opposition and act as a united front against the common enemy -- international terrorism," the defence ministry said in a statement.
Deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov called the contact with the opposition groups "useful", both for "fighting terrorism and promoting the political process," while speaking to Interfax news agency.
The Russian defence ministry said the latest strikes hit targets close to Palmyra, Deir Ezzor, Ithriya and eastern Aleppo with assistance from the opposition, destroying "terrorist" command posts, munition stores and anti-aircraft artillery.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said warplanes believed to be either Russian or those of the Syrian regime bombed the Islamic State group's de facto capital Raqa on Tuesday, killing at least 23 people including 13 jihadists.
Moscow has been bombing targets in Syria since September 30, when it launched an offensive in support of forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad against IS jihadists and other "terrorist" groups.
- 'Aim is to fight terrorism' -
"Our aim both in Syria and anywhere else is to fight terrorism first of all," Russian President Vladimir Putin said in Moscow on Tuesday.
But the US and its allies, who are involved in a separate air campaign against IS, have accused Moscow of primarily hitting more moderate groups fighting Assad's regime.
Lavrov and de Mistura met Friday in Vienna alongside the top diplomats from 17 other key international players on the Syrian conflict, including the United States, Iran and Saudi Arabia, in the broadest push yet to end the four-year conflict.
Neither Syria's regime nor opposition were represented, but countries backing either side were present.
Syria's deputy foreign minister Faisal Moqdad on Tuesday ruled out any transition period in Syria, insisting that Assad is "the legitimate president elected by the Syrian people."
The United States, Saudi Arabia, Britain and France say the Syrian leader has lost all legitimacy and must step down, even if not immediately.
The British government on Tuesday denied it was abandoning plans for a parliamentary vote to join air strikes in Syria as an influential committee of MPs advised against action.
Newspaper reports suggested Prime Minister David Cameron had abandoned plans to seek parliamentary approval to extend missions against the Islamic State jihadist group from Iraq into neighbouring Syria.
Russia's defence ministry said its planes carried out joint training on Tuesday with the US-led coalition force that is also conducting strikes in Syria on what to do if their planes got dangerously close.
It said the simulation saw Russian planes fly at the minimum safe distance from the planes of the US-led coalition, establish radio communications and inform each other of their flight plans in both English and Russian.
Moscow said that since the start of the operation it has hit 2,084 targets in 1,631 sorties, including 52 training camps and 287 command posts.
It said it has managed to cause "significant losses to the terrorists" and to "undermine their morale."
© 2015 AFP