The US believes Russia has launched its first airstrikes in Syria just hours after the country’s Parliament approved Vladimir Putin’s request for military intervention.
No further information was given but activists in Homs and Hama provinces have posted images and video online claiming to show Russian planes bombing groups of non-Isis rebels who are fighting Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
The death toll could not be verified but dozens of fatalities were reported, including civilians, and footage showed injured children being treated in Talbiseh, a Free Syrian Army (FSA) stronghold.
An audio recording was also published by Qasion News, claiming to show communication between Russian pilots flying over Syria.
As the footage spread on social media, American officials told journalists they believed Russia had started carrying out airstrikes near Homs.
An anonymous US official told Reuters that Moscow gave Washington a one-hour notice of its operations but could give no further details.
Eliot Higgins, the founder of citizen journalism website Bellingcat and a specialist on the conflict in Syria, said it was not possible to know whether Russians or Syrians were piloting the aircraft seen during bombings.
“The dozens of videos of the dead and injured coming from Tabliseh are definitely legitimate, the question is whether or not it can be proven Russian bombers were responsible as the local media centres are claiming,” he told The Independent.
Other footage appearing to show claiming to show the aftermath of airstrikes by Russian planes was posted online by the Homs Media Centre and the Hama branch of rebel alliance the Syrian Revolutionary Command Council.
The group conducted an inteview with an FSA commander who claimed that Russian jets bombed his fighters in Hama using Su-24s.
The Syrian government had asked Russia for support in the country’s civil war before the Federation Council approved intervention on Wednesday.
A post on President Assad’s official Twitter account said he had invited Russian forces to fight “terrorism”, although the word is used by the regime to describe anyone opposing it, including non-Islamist rebels.
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
Meanwhile, the US and coalition aircraft were conducting air strikes in Syria and Iraq on Wednesday, although a spokesperson did not specify where.
Russia has already been providing weapons and training for Syrian regime forces, and navy transport vessels have been shuttling troops, weapons and supplies to an air base near the coastal city of Latakia for several week.
Satellite images released last week showed 28 jets, including Su-30 multirole fighters, Su-25 ground attack jets, Su-24 bombers and possibly Ka-52 helicopter gunships at the base.
Sergei Ivanov, chief of Putin's administration, said that the Federation Council voted unanimously in favour of military intervention but insisted Moscow is not sending ground troops to Syria.
He said it will only use its air force “in order to support the Syrian government forces in their fight against the Islamic State” group.
But areas reportedly hit by Russian planes today included Latamneh and Tal Wasit, both in Hama governate, and Zaafrana, Homs.
All are held by the Free Syrian Army, secular rebels, or non-Isis Islamists including Jaysh al-Fath (the Army of Conquest).
In the Syrian civil war’s ever-changing web of alliances, the coalition, including Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar ash-Sham, sometimes co-operates with Free Syrian Army in its battles against Isis and government forces.
Senior Tories have backed Russia's intervention in Syria, saying working with Assad is the “lesser evil” in the fight against Isis.
Bob Stewart, a member of parliament's defence select committee, said “in order to defeat the great Satan you might have to put up with a lesser devil as well”.
Meanwhile, James Gray, the Conservative MP for North Wiltshire and fellow defence select committee member, also welcomed the decision.
“My enemy's enemy is my friend, to some degree,” he said. “You can't fight both Assad and IS at the same time.“
The intervention announcement came as France’s national prosecutor confirmed it had opened a case investigating alleged crimes against humanity and other atrocities committed by the Syrian regime.Reuse content