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Russia Launches First Airstrikes In Syria

Russian defence spokesman says equipment belonging to terrorists hit, though others fear that all anti-Assad forces are being targeted, and not just Isis

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Russia has launched its first airstrikes against targets in Syria, two days after Putin, spoke to the UN and calling for an international coalition against terrorism to fight ISIS

Syrian opposition groups report Russia has carried out its first air strikes in the country, targeting rebel-held areas in north eastern Homs province.

There is concern among rebel groups and in the west that Russia was targeting all forces opposed to President Assad, rather than focusing on ISIS.

The Guardian reports: A spokesman for Russia’s defence ministry confirmed Russia had hit military and communication equipment “belonging to terrorists” in the country on Wednesday afternoon.

Speaking outside Moscow on Wednesday, Putin said Russia would not “plunge headfirst” into the conflict, but would provide temporary air support for a Syrian army offensive.

At the Pentagon, US officials said the strikes did not appear to be targeting areas held by Isis forces, and signalled deep dissatisfaction with Russia, piercing the veneer of cooperation that Barack Obama and Putin sought to establish at the United Nations this week.

A day after the Pentagon announced that the US defence chief, Ashton Carter, was establishing a communications channel with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoygu, to “deconflict” any overlapping airstrikes, Russian officials told US diplomats in Baghdad that the Americans should avoid Syrian airspace during a Russian operation of uncertain duration. US officials rejected the demand.

A US defence official said: “While we would welcome a constructive role by Russia in this effort [to deconflict strikes], today’s demarche hardly seems indicative of that sort of role and will in no way alter our operations.” He added that the strikes underscored the need for “meaningful deconfliction discussions very soon”.

Syrian rebels and opposition media outlets claimed that Russian aircraft carried out strikes in the central provinces of Homs and Hama that allegedly killed at least 24 people.

Activists in Hama said Russian fighter jets targeted the town of Lataminah, north of the city. The Homs Media Centre, a pro-opposition media outlet, identified 22 individuals killed in what was described as Russian strikes in the town of Talbiseh, in the north of the province. It was not possible to immediately verify these claims.

Other video footage from Hama showed warplanes that the opposition said were Russian jets, but which were difficult to identify positively from a distance.

A commander with a Syrian rebel group known as Tajammu al Izzah, which operates in northern Hama and claims allegiance to the umbrella group the Free Syrian Army, said his organisation’s headquarters were targeted by Russian warplanes.

If true, the attacks are an indication that Russia’s campaign in Syria will be more expansive and will target opposition fighters battling to topple the Assad regime, rather than focusing on Islamic State.

The apparent geography of the strikes also raises doubts that US and Russian pilots would in fact risk a confrontation. The early reports from the anti-Assad activists in Hama and Homs suggest the strikes occurred further west than the US has ever bombed, deep into territory where the Assad regime still maintains a tenuous hold, and in likely range of its air defences. The US has tended not to strike territory where Isis and Assad actively vie for control.