It is being reported that Russian jets have bombed US backed rebel positions in Syria including rural areas near the north-western town of Jisr al-Shughour, a day after launching air strikes.
A denial by the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday that Russian airstrikes’ have targeted non-ISIS targets included U.S.-backed Syrian rebels. Lavrov has said the airstrikes only targeted the ISIS group and affiliates.
Lavrov refers to ISIS and terrorists in the same breath. By “terrorists” they mean the same as Bashar al-Assad – anyone part of the armed opposition such as the US backed rebels who are fighting the dictator. It so happens that the biggest threat to the Assad regime are in the core areas of – Damascus, and the central and western plains to the coast – exactly where Russian planes have conducted their bombings.
Verification of the bombing came via, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. According witnesses airstrikes in the central province of Hama on Thursday hit locations of the U.S.-backed rebel group Tajamu Alezzah, as well as the province of Idlib, which is controlled by a coalition of rebel groups that include al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra.
Vladimir Putin, the Russian president believes the survival of the dictator Assad is very important, so it makes sense to target all rebels who oppose his rule.
Moscow claims it had hit Islamic State positions; however, the areas it struck are mostly held by a rival insurgent alliance, which unlike the areas that are held by the Islamic State is supported by U.S. and its allies including Arab states and Turkey.
John McCain, the US senator, said today that he could “absolutely confirm” that Russian air strikes had hit Free Syrian Army rebels who had been armed and trained by the US, writes David Lawler in Washington.
“Their initial strikes were against the individuals and groups that have been funded and trained by our CIA in an incredible flaunting of any kind of co-operation or effort to conceal what Putin’s first priority is, and that is of course to prop up Bashar al-Assad,” Mr McCain told CNN.
“I can absolutely confirm to you that they were strikes against the Free Syrian Army or groups that have been armed and trained by the CIA because we have communication with people there…this is an Orwellian experience.”
The Iranian Factor
Reuters is now reporting that hundreds of Iranian troops have reached Syria over the past week and a half with weapons to mount a major ground offensive. They would also be backed by Assad’s Lebanese Hezbollah allies and by Shi’ite militia fighters from Iraq, while the Russia would provide air support.
So far, direct Iranian military support for Assad has come mostly in the form of military advisers. Iran has also mobilized Shi’ite militia fighters, including Iraqis and some Afghans, to fight alongside Syrian government forces.
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said Israel will defend its interests in Syria without seeking permission from Russia.
“We have our interests and when they are threatened we will act and will continue to act,” he said. “This was made clear to the Russian president.”
Although the Russians claimed to have attacked Islamic State targets, Yaari and other analysts say the attacks were not against IS but against several small rebel groups, some of them supported by the West. The object of these attacks, said Yaari, was to keep open a main highway leading from Damascus to the north.
At least 27 Syrian civilians, including a number of children, were reported to have been killed in the air attacks.
Yaalon spelled out Israel’s red lines in Syria, which, if crossed, will provoke an Israeli reaction. “We will hit anyone who tries to violate our sovereignty, anyone who tries to transfer advanced weapon systems to terrorist organizations (a reference to Hezbollah), and anyone who tries to transfer chemical weapons to terror organizations. We have no intention of giving up our ability to defend our interests.”
Israel is no stranger to bombing Syria. On September 6, 2007 an Israeli airstrike on a suspected nuclear reactor in the Deir ez-Zor region of Syria, which occurred just after midnight destroying the Syrian nuclear site, located in the Deir ez-Zor region