Russia denies killing civilians in Syrian air strikes while threatening to reveal alleged US 'collateral damage'

Reports by Amnesty International and monitoring groups claims Russia has killed hundreds of civilians

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The Independent Online

Russian military officials have claimed Vladimir Putin’s forces “do not even plan” air strikes that might harm civilians, despite reports of hundreds of Syrians being killed.

Since the beginning of its campaign in September, the Russian air force has carried out 5,662 sorties, including 145 by fighter jets and bombers, and launched 97 cruise missiles Lieutenant General Sergey Rudskoy said.

He claimed Russian jets were targeting Isis’ fuel and weapons supplies and had resulted in the “liberation” of more 217 population centres covering 1,000 square kilometres in Syria from “terrorists”.

Russia's reported air strikes

That report, carried by the Russian government-owned Sputnik news agency, clashed with those from international observers claiming that the strikes have killed up to 800 civilians, as well as hundreds more non-Isis rebels being targeted by the Syrian regime.

Amnesty International put the civilian death toll from Russian strikes at 200 “at least” in a report released last month, while the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) put it at almost four times that figure, saying more than 600 Isis militants were also killed.

The Russian defence ministry previously dismissed the claims as “fake information” and its spokesperson, Major General Igor Konashenkov accused the US-led coalition of covering up civilian casualties today.

 “I emphasise that the strikes by our air group in Syria on terrorist targets are carried out only after data [on targets] is verified through several channels,” he said. 

“Strikes are not carried out in case of risk for lives of civilians…our aviation does not even plan airstrikes if there is a possibility of civilian casualties.”

The Sputnik report quoted Maj-Gen Konashenkov claiming that the Pentagon approves air strikes expected to kill civilians as long as the number is under 50.

“If our colleagues [the US-led coalition] remain silent about the results of their strikes in Syria, we'll have to inform the public of these facts ourselves,” he added.

A spokesperson for US Central Command (CentCom), which has confirmed eight civilian deaths in American strikes in Iraq and Syria between April and July, declined to comment on the report.

“Although we will not comment on claims made by Russian media, we can inform you that US and Coalition forces work very hard to be precise in airstrikes, and are conducting one of the most precise air campaigns in military history,” Max R Blumenfeld told The Independent.

“US and Coalition forces take all reasonable measures during the target planning and execution of airstrikes to mitigate risks to non-combatants, and to comply with the law of armed conflict. “Furthermore, in the event of allegations, we take all reports of non-combatant casualties seriously and assess all incidents as thoroughly as possible.” 

A damaged building after what activists said were airstrikes carried out by the Russian air force in Idlib city, Syria

As the United Nations reported the death of a 16-year-old boy in the starving town of Madaya, which is besieged by the Syrian army and Hezbollah, Russia was trumpeting its own “humanitarian operations” dropping food in the government-held city of Deir ez-Zor.

The UN Security Council was scheduled to hold an emergency meeting today to press all parties in the Syrian civil war to lift multiple sieges putting an estimated 400,000 civilians at risk of starvation across Syria.

Britain joined the US-led coalition of a dozen nations bombing Syria in December, while Russia is co-ordinating its operation with the Syrian government and Iran and an Islamic Military Alliance has been formed by Saudi Arabia.

UN-brokered peace talks on 25 January are hoping to bring the Syrian government and opposition together, although Isis and other terrorist groups that control huge swathes of the country are not invited.

The five-year conflict has so far killed at least 250,000 people and forced more than four million Syrians to flee their country as refugees.