Three years of Russia strikes on Syria kill 18,000: monitor

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BEIRUT, Sept 30, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – More than 18,000 people, nearly half of
them civilians, have been killed in Russian air strikes on Syria since Moscow
began its game-changing intervention exactly three years ago, a monitor said
Sunday.

Russia, for its part, said its “accurate” strikes had killed 85,000
“terrorists”.

A steadfast ally of Syria’s ruling regime, Russia began carrying out
bombing raids in the country on September 30, 2015 — more than four years
into the devastating conflict.

Since then, they have killed 18,096 people, according to the Syrian
Observatory for Human Rights.

“That number includes 7,988 civilians, or nearly half of the total,” said
Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.

Another 5,233 Islamic State fighters were also killed in Russian strikes,
with the rest of the dead including other rebels, Islamists and jihadists,
the Britain-based monitor said.

Russia’s defence commission published drastically different figures on
Sunday.

“All of the air strikes have targeted and are still accurately targeting
terrorist targets,” said commission chief Viktor Bondarev, cited by the
Russian Interfax agency.

Human rights groups and Western governments have criticised Russia’s air
war in Syria, saying it bombs indiscriminately and targets civilian
infrastructure including hospitals.

The White Helmets, a Syrian rescue force that works in opposition areas,
said in a report released Sunday that it had responded to dozens of strikes
by Russia on buildings used by civilians since 2015.

They included Russian bombing raids on 19 schools, 12 public markets and
20 medical facilities over the past three years, as well as 21 of its own
rescue centres.

“Russia has flaunted its disregard for agreements over safe zones, no-
conflict zones, cessations of hostilities, and de-escalation zones by
continuing with airstrikes on civilian spaces,” the White Helmets charged.

Russia has operated a naval base in Syria’s coastal Tartus province for
decades, but expanded its operations to the nearby Hmeimim airbase in 2015.

It also has special forces and military police units on the ground in
government-controlled parts of the country.

The air strikes were crucial in helping troops loyal to President Bashar
al-Assad retake swathes of the country, including second city Aleppo in 2016
and areas around Damascus, the rural centre, and the south this year alone.

“The regime controlled just 26 percent of Syrian territory” when Russia
intervened, said Abdel Rahman, compared with close to two-thirds now.

In addition to the Russian and Syrian air forces, warplanes from the US-
led coalition fighting IS have also been carrying out bombing raids on Syria
since September 2014.

Last week, the Observatory said that US-led coalition air strikes on Syria
had killed more than 3,300 civilians since the alliance began operations
against IS targets.

The Observatory, which relies on sources inside Syria for its reports,
says it determines whose planes carried out strikes according to type,
location, flight patterns and munitions involved.

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