The Russian air-force carried out over 20 airstrikes in Syria on Saturday, in its fourth straight day of an intensive air offensive, raising the total to 60 sorties that struck at over 50 targets. The Russian defense ministry said their forces bombed nine Islamic State (ISIS) positions on Saturday near Raqqa. Recent Russian airstrikes have reportedly killed at least 39 civilians.
International tension grows as the US led coalition of Turkey, France, Germany, Britian, Qatar and Saudi Arabia issued a joint statement, accusing Russia of attacking the Syrian opposition and civilians, instead of fighting ISIS.
“These military actions constitute a further escalation and will only fuel more extremism and radicalization,” the statement said.
On Wednesday, Russia gave the US a one-hour warning before it began its airstrikes against the city of Homs in western Syrian. The Russian Defense Ministry requested the US vacate the airspace but US forces did not comply. There are serious concerns of accidental or intentional escalation that would turn Syria into a battleground for the world powers.
Russia and the US are at odds in Syria, with Russia supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad and the US opposing him. Both superpowers oppose ISIS, however Russia claims that Assad is the best option to achieve that. The US supports groups they consider to be moderate, who they claim oppose ISIS, but who are fighting to depose Assad.
At a recent press conference, US President Barack Obama said, “The problem here is Assad and the brutality that he’s inflicted on the Syrian people, and it has to stop. We’re not going to co-operate with a Russian campaign to destroy anyone who is disgusted and fed up with Assad. From their (Russia’s) perspective, they’re all terrorists. And that’s a recipe for disaster.”
Col.-Gen. Andrei Kartapolov, a top official in the Russian military’s general staff, seemed pleased with the results and said they had every intention of continuing.
“Our intelligence has determined that the militants are leaving the areas they control. Panic and desertion have begun in their ranks,” Kartapolov said in a briefing transcript posted on the Defense Ministry’s Facebook page. “We will not only continue attacks by our airplanes, but will increase their intensity.”
Alexei Pushkov, the head of the foreign affairs committee in Russia’s parliament, said the campaign – which began on Wednesday – could last for three to four months.
The Syrian civil war has lasted four years, has killed over 250,000, led to 11 million people fleeing their homes, and over 4 million refugees flooding Europe as they seek asylum.