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Russia hits 10 IS targets in Syria

MOSCOW, Oct 4, (Agencies): Russian planes have flown 20 sorties in Syria and struck 10 Islamic State targets in the past 24 hours, the country’s defence ministry said in a statement on Sunday. Russia has said it would step up its air strikes in Syria, escalating a military intervention which Moscow launched on Wednesday to weaken Islamic State militants, but which Western powers say aims to support President Bashar al-Assad. “As a result of our air strikes on Islamic State targets, we have managed to disrupt their control system, the terrorist organisation’s supply lines, and also caused significant damage to the infrastructure used to prepare acts of terror,” the ministry said. It said the strikes, conducted by SU-34, SU- 24M and SU-25 planes, had hit targets in the Idlib and Raqqa provinces, including a terrorist training camp and a suicide belt factory.

The strikes, which it called pinpoint, had also destroyed three ammunition stores and four Islamic State command centres, the ministry said. Air strikes by suspected Russian jets hit targets around the town of Talbiseh in western Syria on Sunday, residents and a group which monitors the civil war in Syria said, a day after Russia promised to step up its air campaign. Ambulances rushed wounded people to hospital in Talbiseh, north of the city of Homs, and one resident said at least five bodies had been recovered from the western part of the town. “So far there are seven or six raids in the town,” said Abdul Ghafar al Dweik, a former government employee and volunteer rescue worker. He said he believed the raid was carried out by Russian jets. “They come suddenly… With the Syrian planes, we would get a warning but now all of a sudden we see it over our heads,” he said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors Syria’s four-year-old civil war through a network of sources, said Russian planes struck on Sunday in Homs province and also in neighbouring Hama. Several rebel groups around Talbiseh operate under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army and some have received military support from Western and Gulf Arab states that oppose President Bashar al-Assad. The air strikes in Hama targeted a region in the east of the province controlled by Islamic State fighters, the Observatory said.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Sunday that Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin’s decision to take military action in Syria to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was a “terrible mistake”. Russia has begun striking targets in Syria — a dramatic escalation of foreign involvement in the civil war which has been criticised by some as an attempt to prop up Assad, rather than its purported aim of attacking Islamic State militants. “They are backing the butcher Assad, which is a terrible mistake for them and for the world,” Cameron told the BBC on the first day of his Conservative Party’s annual conference in the northern English city of Manchester. “It’s going to make the region more unstable, it will lead to further radicalisation and increased terrorism. I would say to them ‘change direction, join us in attacking ISIL’.”

Russia says it is targeting hardline Islamic State militants, but Cameron questioned that position. “Most of the Russian air strikes, as far as we’ve been able to see so far, have been in parts of Syria not controlled by ISIL (Islamic State), but controlled by other opponents of the regime,” he said. Cameron is keen for Britain to begin its own air strikes in Syria, joining allies in a US-led coalition against Islamic State, a self-declared caliphate spanning large areas of Syria and neighbouring Iraq.

British bombing as part of the coalition so far has only targeted Islamic State in Iraq. He signalled that he would push ahead with plans for a vote in parliament to approve military action against Islamic State in Syria, the Daily Telegraph newspaper said in its Sunday edition. Cameron was quoted as saying that British military attacks in Syria “may well become possible”. Previously, Cameron has said he sees a strong case for extending British air strikes to Syria from Iraq. After losing a parliamentary vote on the use of force against Assad in Syria in 2013, Cameron has said he would want the support of opposing lawmakers before putting the matter to a vote. The opposition Labour Party, which last month elected anti-war campaigner Jeremy Corbyn as leader, is split on the issue.

Russia’s bombing campaign in Syria is a “grave mistake” and its support for the regime will be judged by history, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned on Sunday. “The steps Russia is taking and the bombing campaign in Syria are quite unacceptable to Turkey,” Erdogan told reporters at Istanbul airport before leaving for a visit to France. “(…) Unfortunately, Russia is making a grave mistake,” he said. Given Moscow’s friendly relations with Turkey, its actions in Syria are “worrying and disturbing,” Erdogan said. The strikes will “isolate Russia in the region,” he predicted. Russia and Turkey have long been at odds over Syria, with Moscow emerging as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s key international backer and Ankara seeing his ouster as the only solution to the conflict. “What’s Russia trying achieve there anyway?” Erdogan asked. “It intervened because this was what the regime in Syria demanded. But there’s no obligation to respond like this every time a regime insists on it,” he said. Erdogan blamed “not only Russia” but also Iran, which was defending Assad and “waging state terrorism” in Syria. “The countries that cooperate with the (Syrian) regime will be accountable to history,” he warned. Russia, which began the air strikes in Syria last week, insists the operation only targets jihadists. But Turkey and several of its Western allies have said moderates fighting Assad’s regime have also been hit. Meanwhile, the president of Iraq’s Kurdistan region said on Saturday that “better results” could be achieved in the war against Islamic State militants if Russia and the international coalition coordinated their efforts. In a statement, Massoud Barzani also said he welcomed assistance from any country, including Russia, for his autonomous region’s peshmerga forces, which are dug in along a frontline with the militants in northern Iraq. “If there is coordination and cooperation between the international coalition and Russia against DAESH, that will achieve better results,” Barzani said in the statement, using an Arabic name for Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL. “The Kurdistan region… welcomes Russia if it supports the Peshmerga in the fight against DAESH”. The Syrian authorities on Sunday detained a prominent opposition figure, his movement said, days after he criticised Russian air strikes in Syria. Munzer Khaddam, spokesman for the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, was stopped at a checkpoint near Damascus, an official from his group told AFP. “He has been detained in an unknown location,” the source said, adding that Khaddam’s mobile telephone was turned off when they tried to call him.

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