US, allies urge Russia to halt air strikes

ISTANBUL • Russia's air strikes in Syria will cause an escalation of the civil war, members of the US-led coalition against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants warned yesterday, calling on Moscow to immediately stop targeting Syrian opposition forces.

The petition came as Russia yesterday said it had bombed the ISIS stronghold of Raqa in Syria, rejecting accusations that it was targeting Syrian rebels trained by the US Central Intelligence Agency.

"As a result of the strikes, the ISIS command point was put out of action. The infrastructure used to train terrorists was completely destroyed," Russia's defence ministry said.

FUEL ON THE FIRE

Russia's military actions constitute a further escalation and will only fuel more extremism and radicalisation.

SEVEN COUNTRIES INCLUDING TURKEY, SAUDI ARABIA AND THE UNITED STATES, in a statement published on the website of the Turkish foreign ministry.

The civil war in Syria is turning more regional and global in scope, with hundreds of Iranian troops arriving in Syria to join a major ground offensive in support of President Bashar al-Assad's government, Lebanese sources said.

"Russia's military actions constitute a further escalation and will only fuel more extremism and radicalisation," seven countries including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United States said in a statement published on the website of the Turkish foreign ministry.

"We call on the Russian Federation to immediately cease its attacks on the Syrian opposition and civilians," said the statement, which was also published on the websites of the German and French foreign ministries.

It said that Russia should "focus its efforts on fighting ISIL", using an alternative name for ISIS.

Russia insists it has targeted only ISIS in its air strikes. But Turkey and several of its Western allies have said that moderate groups fighting the Assad regime have been hit.

The statement expressed "deep concern" over Russia's air strikes which "led to civilian casualties and did not target" ISIS.

The seven countries supporting the joint declaration are Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the US. It was published following intensive diplomacy on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York which saw Turkish Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioglu meet his US counterpart John Kerry late on Thursday.

Two Lebanese sources said on Thursday that hundreds of Iranian troops with weapons had reached Syria in the past 10 days to mount a major ground offensive.

They would also be backed by Mr Assad's Lebanese Hizbollah allies and by Shi'ite militia fighters from Iraq, while Russia would provide air support, the sources said.

"The vanguard of Iranian ground forces began arriving in Syria - soldiers and officers specifically to participate in this battle. They are not advisers... we mean hundreds with equipment and weapons. They will be followed by more," one of the sources said.

So far, direct Iranian military support for Mr Assad has come mostly in the form of military advisers.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2015, with the headline 'US, allies urge Russia to halt air strikes'. Print Edition | Subscribe