Russia denies air strikes targeted Syrian rebels

  • 02/10/2015
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (AAP)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (AAP)

Russia has rejected accusations that Moscow had bombed moderate rebel factions fighting Syria's President Bashar al-Assad instead of Islamic State fighters, and had hit civilians.

"The rumours that the target of these air strikes was not IS positions are unfounded," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told journalists in New York on Thursday (local time) after meeting his US counterpart, John Kerry.

Russia on Wednesday launched air strikes in war-torn Syria, its first overseas military engagement in nearly four decades after the Russian parliament gave President Vladimir Putin permission to use force abroad.

The campaign was started "in response to the appeal of the Syrian leadership to help fight ISIL and other terrorist groups", Lavrov said, referring to the Islamic State group.

But France and the US immediately expressed doubts that Moscow was targeting IS fighters.

The head of Syria's main opposition group accused Moscow of aiming to support Assad's regime and killing 36 civilians in the central province of Homs.

Lavrov said the Russian military only went after "terrorist groups" and said Moscow had requested that American officials back up their accusations with firm evidence.

"They expressed doubt, arguing that there is evidence, which we asked to show us, because we stand by our targets," Russia's top diplomat said, in the comments also released by the foreign ministry in Moscow.

"Talk began that civilians were hurt by air strikes. We have no such data," he added. "We carefully make sure that these target strikes are precise."

The defence ministry in Moscow said for its part that Russian fighter jets had carried out 20 sorties and struck "eight Islamic State targets", including a command post in the mountains.

Russia's Kommersant daily on Thursday quoted a military source as saying that the Russian deployment includes Su-24M and Su-34 bombers, Su-30 fighter jets and Mi-24 combat helicopters.