Syria conflict: Russia and France meet amid tensions over air strikes


The French and Russian presidents are set for talks on Friday amid fears Russia is carrying out “indiscriminate” air strikes on Syrian militants.

The French military, like the US, is targeting Islamic State (IS) fighters with air strikes. But the US says Russia is carrying out random strikes against the Syrian opposition.

Russia says it is targeting the same groups as the US-led coalition.


France said it was crucial that Russia was true to its word.

The Syrian opposition and others have suggested rebel factions opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – the Kremlin’s ally – are bearing the brunt of the Russian attacks.

French President Francois Hollande, using an Arabic acronym for IS, said it was important that “the strikes, regardless of who is carrying them out, target Daesh and not other groups”.


Paris talks will see Syria focus

Mr Hollande will meet his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Paris on Friday. The meeting was called to discuss peace efforts in Ukraine, but these are expected to be overshadowed by the crisis in Syria.

Russia said it carried out its second day of air strikes on Thursday, hitting IS ammunition dumps and command centres.

syriaRussian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking at the UN in New York, said Russia would also fight other terrorist groups including the al-Nusra Front – an al-Qaeda affiliate.

He said this position was the same as that of the US-led coalition which has been carrying out air strikes in Iraq and Syria for the past year.

“We are not supporting anyone against their own people. We fight terrorism,” he said.

Mr Lavrov said the targets were selected “in co-ordination with the Syrian army”.

The Pentagon and Russia had their first conversation on Thursday to ensure there were no accidental clashes between their aircraft in Syria.

But Washington expressed concerns that Russia did not appear to be targeting IS-held areas.

“Carrying out indiscriminate military operations against the Syrian opposition is dangerous for Russia,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

“It is only going to prolong the sectarian conflict inside Syria, if not make that conflict indefinite, and it also risks Russia being drawn even more deeply into that conflict.”

Russian air strikes on Thursday were said to have hit Homs, Hama and Idlib provinces.

The commander of a US-trained rebel group said one of its training camps in Idlib province had been hit by two Russian sorties.

Hassan Haj Ali, of the Liwa Suqour al-Jabal group, told Reuters news agency that the Russian jets were identified by former Syrian air force pilots who are now members of his group.

Syrian opposition groups says the strikes have killed civilians but Russian officials say the warplanes have avoided civilian areas.

Rights groups have also accused the US-led coalition against IS of causing dozens of civilian deaths in air strikes.

Syria’s civil war

What’s the human cost?

More than 250,000 Syrians have been killed and a million injured in four-and-a-half years of armed conflict, which began with anti-government protests before escalating into a full-scale civil war.

And the survivors?

More than 11 million others have been forced from their homes, four million of them abroad, as forces loyal to President Assad and those opposed to his rule battle each other – as well as jihadist militants from IS and other groups. Growing numbers of refugees are going to Europe.

How has the world reacted?

Regional and world powers have also been drawn into the conflict. Iran and Russia, along with Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, are propping up the Alawite-led government. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are backing the Sunni-dominated opposition, along with the US, UK and France.

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