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Russia has accused the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Reuters news agency of spreading lies about its involvement in a series of airstrikes is Syria’s northwestern Idlib province.
Syria has been gripped by a foreign-backed militancy since March 2011. According to a February 2016 report by the Syrian Center for Policy Research, the conflict has claimed the lives of some 470000 people, injured 1.9 million others, and displaced nearly half of the country’s pre-war population of about 23 million within or beyond its borders. On September 30, 2015, Russia launched an air campaign against Daesh and other terrorist groups upon a request by the Damascus government. Later in mid-March 2016, the bulk of Russian military forces were withdrawn from Syria.
“We urge people to remain critical of any horror stories spread by the "British tandem" of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Reuters news agency”, said Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov on Tuesday. “No combat missions, let alone delivering airstrikes, have been performed by the Russian Air Force in Idlib province”, stressed Konashenkov. "As we presented to the world the objective monitoring data, fully disproving their previous fabrications —neither the Observatory nor the agency even tried to listen and much less publish a denial", he noted.
Earlier, the UK-based monitoring group reported that Russia carried out air raids on the province, and Reuters said they were “the heaviest bombardment there since a cessation of hostilities was agreed in February”. The reports claimed that at least 23 civilians, among them seven children, were killed in the strikes which targeted several areas, including a hospital. Reuters also quoted Turkish sources as saying that 60 civilians were killed and 200 more injured.
The allegations of Russia’s involvement in the incidents were not confirmed by the US either. “We’re still looking into what happened in Idlib. We don’t have a great sense of complete knowledge here of who’s responsible”, said State Department spokesman John Kirby. “We’re going to continue to work closely –inside the cessation of hostilities task force– with the Russians to try to figure out what happened here, and we’ll take it from there”, Kirby added.
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said airstrikes against terrorist groups that have not joined a ceasefire in Syria will recommence this week. Last week, Russia’s Defense Ministry announced that it would temporally suspend its airstrikes against terrorists in Syria following a request by several groups who are willing to join the ceasefire. Daesh and al-Nusra Front are excluded from the “cessation of the hostilities” agreement reached in late February 2016 as an attempt for facilitating peace talks. At the time, Konashenkov said the groups have asked for time to drive out the Nusra Front terrorists by themselves.