Russian air force has been targeting Al Nusra-affiliated fighters in the Idlib province of Syria, the Russian Defense Ministry said, releasing videos to refute “unsubstantiated claims” that it deliberately bombed civilian-populated areas.
“The Russian Air Force does not strike populated areas in the Syrian Arab Republic,” General Igor Konashenkov, spokesperson for the Russian Defense Ministry, said Tuesday, following reports of Russian strikes allegedly hitting heavily populated areas in Idlib.
The controversial Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed that in the past few days it has documented “intense airstrikes targeting… villages and towns” in Idlib province. The raids, SOHR claimed, killed 27 civilians, while injuring 58 others.
“The statements by the Observatory, sourced to anonymous ‘eyewitnesses’ or ‘volunteers,’ are traditionally unsubstantiated and serve as an ‘informational cover’ for the activity of Al Nusra militants and affiliated warring factions,” the Russian MoD said.
The NGO, run by an individual residing in the UK, has for years been feeding news about the Syrian war to many media outlets, claiming to have a wide network of contacts on the ground. The Western media, along with officials, often take the information provided by SOHR at face value and cite its reports that speak of victims of either Russian or Syrian military actions in the region. Both the Russian and Syrian military have on a number of occasions revealed inconsistencies in the group’s reports, however, accusing it of manipulating its alleged evidence.
In the past 24 hours, the Russian jets have struck 10 terrorist targets in Idlib province, the Defense Ministry said, releasing the footage of the strikes. Prior to initiating the strikes, the Russian military confirmed terrorist movements at target locations through drone reconnaissance and “other intelligence channels,” Konashenkov said.
The targets, which were all situated away from populated areas, included ISIS’s underground bases, ammunition depots and armored vehicles, the military said. The Russian jets also managed to destroy jihadists’ rocket launchers and workshops that produce explosive-laden vehicles.
“The destroyed facilities and equipment were used both during training and during the terrorist attack on September 18,” the spokesman noted, referring to the attack on the Russian military police unit in the Hama province where terrorists wanted to capture “Russian servicemen as hostages.”
Last week Al Nusra-led fighters attempted a massive attack on the positions of government forces and the Russian military police unit northeast of the city of Hama, an area which is part of the de-escalation zone that covers Idlib province.
The Russian Air Force and special operations forces have been deployed to repel the attack and to aid the Russian military police who, with the help of a local militia, have been holding their ground against a much bigger enemy for hours. During the fierce battle, Russian-led forces killed some 850 militants and destroyed 11 tanks, 46 armed pickup trucks, five mortars and other assets.
The Russian Defense Ministry says that, according to their data, an offensive launched by Al Nusra terrorists was orchestrated by the US security services, aiming at derailing the Syrian Army operation near Deir ez-Zor.
Moscow remains concerned that while Washington claims it is focused on fighting Islamic State (IS, formerly ISISISIL) terrorists, on the ground the US-led forces act in a different manner.
On Sunday, the Russian Ministry of Defense published aerial images which they say show US Army special forces equipment located north of Deir ez-Zor, where pockets of IS militants are holding their ground.
The US troops do not face any “resistance from the ISIS militants,” while their positions have no screening patrol, which could indicate that they “feel absolutely safe” in the area, the ministry said.
While Washington has denied the accusations, the troops of the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF), a predominantly Kurdish militia backed by the US military, have recently attacked positions of the Syrian Arab Army in the Deir ez-Zor governorate, to assert control over the oil- and gas-rich eastern part of Syria.
The city of Deir ez-Zor endured almost three years of siege by IS, which was lifted by Syrian government forces and allies with support from the Russian Air Force earlier in September. Fighting to clear the remaining pockets of terrorists continues, alongside a separate US-supported SDF operation across the Euphrates River.