Russia Rejects U.S. Criticism of Attacks on Anti-ISIS Rebelsby
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Russia rejected U.S. criticism of air strikes it conducted in the south of Syria, which the Pentagon says hit American-supported rebels fighting the Islamic State in an incident that has deepened divisions between the two powers.
The Russian strikes took place 300 kilometers (180 miles) from where the U.S. had indicated the presence of rebels who have signed up to a cease-fire, Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said by e-mail on Sunday. Russia informed the U.S.-led coalition in advance of the attack, he said.
U.S. military officials in a video-conference with Russian counterparts on Saturday expressed “strong concerns” about the air strikes on the Tanf garrison, close to the border with Jordan. The attacks hit fighters who are signatories to a nationwide cease-fire. Russia continued the strikes even after the U.S. informed it of ongoing U.S.-led air support for the rebels in Tanf, creating safety concerns for coalition forces, the Pentagon said on its website.
Efforts by Russia and the U.S., the co-sponsors of the Syria peace process, to promote a settlement of the more than five-year conflict have stalled amid a resurgence in fighting. Russia says some U.S.-backed rebels have links to a local affiliate of al-Qaeda, which along with Islamic State is excluded from the cease-fire negotiated in February, and are legitimate targets if they don’t break off those ties. Thanks to Russian air support, President Bashar al-Assad’s forces are making steady advances against his opponents, including Islamic State.
Separately, a Russian soldier died from his injuries after opening fire to halt an approaching car bomber at a humanitarian delivery point in the western Homs province, the Interfax news service reported on Sunday, citing the defense ministry.
The vehicle’s explosives detonated, fatally injuring the serviceman who died later in hospital, the report said. He is the ninth Russian serviceman to die in Syria since an air campaign started in September, according to the defense ministry.