Russian air strikes in Syria make reaching civilians more dangerous, charities warn

Aid groups say Kremlin strikes targeting 'anything that moves' make their job '50% more dangerous'

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The Independent Online

Russian air strikes that target “anything that moves” in northern Syria are making it ever more dangerous to reach desperate civilians, aid groups have warned.

The Russian air force entered the conflict at the end of September, officially to combat Isis, but much of its efforts have been focused on helping the Syrian army to make gains in rebel-held areas where Isis is not present. As well as targeting opposition fighters, it has bombed residential areas, marketplaces, and lorries carrying food and medicine. 

Rae McGrath, director of the Turkey and north Syria programme at Mercy Corps, one of the biggest British-backed charities operating in northern Syria, said that its work had become “at least 50 per cent more dangerous” since the Russian intervention. 

World leaders are due to meet in London this week for a conference aimed at raising $7bn (£4.9bn) in funds for Syria, but Mr McGrath said getting aid to those in need was becoming harder. “I just see our ability to deliver humanitarian assistance becoming more dangerous every day,” he said.

Another British-backed charity, which asked not to be named, said the Russian intervention had forced it to change its delivery methods. “They bomb anything that moves,” said a source. “We needed to take one delivery in 17 lorries but we couldn’t find any drivers to take the risk. So we had to do 100 deliveries in little vans.”

Mercy Corps has focused much of its efforts on providing food and assistance to enable civilians to remain in their home towns rather than becoming refugees. Mr McGrath warned, however, that the Russian air strikes were not only causing vast numbers of casualties but also driving families towards the border with Turkey. He said there would be far-reaching consequences for European leaders desperate to stop refugees flocking to their shores. 

“This situation is spiralling downwards,” he said. “The world is wandering into this nightmare scenario and nobody seems to be willing or able to speak out about it, to challenge the role of the Russians.”

He added: “We are delivering assistance to keep people alive so they can be killed.”