Russia has bombed what it claims are Islamic State (IS) targets in Syria, to support the government of Bashar al-Assad.
The air raids began on Wednesday, hours after President Vladimir Putin received parliamentary approval to begin military operations in Syria.
“The operation’s military goal is exclusively air support of the Syrian armed forces in their fight against ISIL,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
However, Syrian activists and Western officials have accused Russia of targeting the Homs region instead, which is held not by IS, but by other rebels opposed to the Assad regime. They also claim heavy civilian casualties.
“If it is Homs, which it seems to be, it is not Daesh (Islamic State) that they are targeting, but probably opposition groups, which confirms that they are more in support of Bashar’s regime than in fighting Daesh,” a French security source said.
— ISW (@TheStudyofWar) September 30, 2015
US Secretary of State John Kerry has expressed “grave concerns” about Russian attacks on areas not held by IS or al-Qaeda. “Strikes of that kind would question Russia’s real intentions – fighting ISIL or protecting the Assad regime,” Mr Kerry said.
He told the United Nations Security Council that US-led bombing missions in Syria have proceeded as planned, despite Russian requests to clear Syrian airspace: “We have conducted a number of strikes against ISIL targets in Syria over the past 24 hours including just an hour ago. These strikes will continue.”
The United States and Russia have been at odds over Mr Assad’s future in Syria, with Mr Putin recently insisting that the Assad regime is the only one capable of fighting IS in the war-torn country. However, the US and its allies maintain that Mr Assad must be removed if there is to be an end to Syria’s civil war.
“Assad can’t be part of Syria’s future,” said UK Prime Minister David Cameron. “He has butchered his own people. He has helped create this conflict and this migration crisis. He is one of the great recruiting sergeants for ISIL. He can’t play a part in the future of Syria and that position hasn’t changed.” – Jake Nelson
Top image from Homs Media Centre purports to show Russian air strikes in the Syrian city of Talbiseh.