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Russia begins second wave of air strikes in Syria as non-Isis rebels say Putin is trying to elimate Assad opposition

Rebels had earlier reported seeing reconnaissance drones flying over non-Isis-held areas

Kim Sengupta
Defence Editor
Thursday 01 October 2015 10:20 BST
Putin has been given Parliamentary approval for Russia to launch air strikes
Putin has been given Parliamentary approval for Russia to launch air strikes (AP)

Russia has reportedly begun air strikes on Syria for a second day.

According to the Lebanon-based al-Mayadeen TV, Russian jets bombed rebel positions in Syria on Thursday including rural areas near the north-western town of Jisr al-Shughour, which is held by an alliance of insurgents including al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front.

The jets carried out at least 30 strikes targeting the "Army of Conquest", it said in a newsflash.

The strikes "targeted the militants" a newsreader from the pro-Damascus channel said.

The apparent strike follows reports earlier in the day that Russian reconnaissance drones were flying over Syria, bringing the prospect of deepening tensions with the West.

Opposition activists claimed that the flights were over areas where the more moderate rebels have positions, rather than Isis, which the Kremlin has insisted is the target of its military action.

Reconnaissance flights had been carried out by the Russians for several days from the port of Latakia before yesterday’s bombings over Homs and Hama province – not a place of Isis concentration, – leading the moderate opposition to say that the US and its allies should have known that they were the ones who were going to get hit, rather than the extremists.

Mahmoud al-Nasri, an activist in Homs, said “ We have heard planes very early this morning and there were explosions later, I am not certain whether they were Russian bombs, but we are expecting the worst. We are against Assad but we are also against Daesh (Isis). Is the aim to destroy all opposition to Assad?”

It remains unclear how many rebel groups which enjoy backing by the West and the Sunni Gulf States, and are not considered extremists, were hit in the first round of Russian strikes. Pentagon officials say they are still assessing reports from the field.

However, the Americans themselves carried out missile strikes against another group when they started their campaign against Isis last year, targeting Jabhat al-Nusra in Aleppo. Although the group is linked to al-Qaeda, it was seen as an effective ally against the Assad regime by some of more moderate groups. Demonstrations were held at the time in protest at civilian casualties caused by the US raids.

There are also deep problems over some of the American trained groups, who have been bankrolled under a $500 million Pentagon programme. It was meant to produce a force of up to 5,000, but fewer than 60 have graduated so far.

Embarrassingly for Washington, a group armed by the US, ‘Division 30’, handed over their arms to al-Nusra almost as soon as they crossed into Syria from Turkey earlier this month.

Jamel Saleh, a member of a coalition of Free Syrian Army battalions, some of whom have received American weapons, claimed that the Russians are trying to eliminate the most immediate threat to regime forces. The units were attacked in Hama, wounding around a dozen fighters. "We are in the frontline with Assad’s army. We are moderate Syrian revolutionaries and we have no affiliation with Isis, who are a hundred kilometers away."

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