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”.
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.”
In pictures: Syria air strikes (2014)
In pictures: Syria air strikes (2014)
Syrian citizens check a damaged house that targeted by the coalition airstrikes, in the village of Kfar Derian, a base for the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, a rival of the Isis group, between the northern province of Aleppo and Idlib
A Syrian boy (L) looking at a destroyed car that activists say was targeted by the coalition airstrikes, in the village of Kfar Derian, a base for the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, a rival of the Islamic State group, between the northern province of Aleppo and Idlib
Parts of a missile that activists say was fired by coalition airstrikes, in the village of Kfar Derian, a base for the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, a rival of the Isis group, between the northern province of Aleppo and Idlib
Tthe guided-missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke (DDG 51) launching Tomahawk cruise missiles against Isis targets
The USS Arleigh Burke (DDG 51) launches a Tomahawk cruise missiles in the Red Sea, to conduct strike missions against Isis group targets in Syria
The guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea (CG 58) launching a Tomahawk cruise missile against Isis targets in Syria, as seen from the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) in the Arabian Gulf
US navy sailors standing watch on the bridge while Tomahawk cruise missiles are launched against Isis targets in Syria, aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea (CG 58), in the Arabian Gulf
The US-led airstrikes in Syria against Isis targets in and around the city of Raqqa
A fighter from the Isis group holds a piece of what the IS is saying is a US drone that crashed into a communications tower in the Syrian city of Raqqa
Fighters from the Isis organisation pray at the spot where the jihadist group said a US drone crashed into a communications tower in the Syrian city of Raqqa
Fighters from the Isis group load a van with parts that they said was a US drone that crashed into a communications tower in the Syrian city of Raqqa
Fighters from the Isis group load a van with parts that they said was a US drone that crashed into a communications tower in Raqqa
Fighters from the Isis group gesture as they load a van with parts that they said was a US drone that crashed into a communications tower in Raqqa. A US-led coalition on carried out its first air strikes and missile attacks against jihadist positions in Syria, with Damascus saying it had been informed by Washington before the operation began
A Syrian man rides his bike past a communications tower that was destroyed after a US drone crashed into it, according to fighters with the Isis group, in the Syrian city of Raqqa
People inspect a shop damaged after what Isis militants say was a U.S. drone crashed into a communication station nearby in Raqqa
A man holds the remains of what Isis militants say was a U.S. drone which crashed in Raqqa
Resident gather in the back of a van the remains of what Isis militants say was a drone which crashed in Raqqa
A man inspects the remains of what Isismilitants say was a U.S. drone which crashed into a communication tower in Raqqa
A man inspects the remains of what Isis militants say was a U.S. drone which crashed in Raqqa
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.”
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.