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Kremlin Says Hard to Distinguish between Rebel Groups, Warns U.S. against Striking Assad Forces | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Picture taken on March 16, 2016 and released by the Russian Defense Ministry shows Russian Sukhoi Su-25 ground attack aircraft taking off from Hmeimim military base in Latakia province. AFP

The Kremlin said on Friday it was hard to distinguish between moderate and extremist rebels on the ground when it came to targeting air strikes in Syria because they were frequently fighting close to one another.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov made the comments when asked to comment on allegations from a senior unnamed U.S. defense official who accused Russian forces in Syria of bombing U.S.-backed rebels.

“Today, Russian aircraft conducted a series of air strikes near al-Tanf against Syrian Counter-ISIS forces that included individuals who have received U.S. support,” said on Thursday the senior defense official, who requested anonymity.

“Russian aircraft have not been active in this area of southern Syria for some time, and there were no Syrian regime or Russian ground forces in the vicinity,” the official said.

The same Kremlin spokesman also dismissed a letter from U.S. officials calling for U.S. strikes on Syrian President Bashar Assad, saying any attempt at regime change in Syria “wouldn’t help a successful fight against terrorism and could plunge the region into total chaos.”

President Barack Obama called for regime change in Syria early on in the five-year conflict, but so far has only authorized strikes against ISIS and other U.S.-designated terror groups in Syria.

Russia has conducted an air campaign in Syria since last September, helping Assad’s forces regain some ground.

Also Friday, the Russian Defense Ministry told local media that a Russian serviceman has died after his convoy in Syria was attacked, saying he was the tenth Russian soldier to lose his life in the Kremlin’s campaign there.

The ministry was cited as saying that Mikhail Shirokopoyas, who had been sent to Russia’s Hmeymim air base in Syria for three months in April, had been wounded in Aleppo province last month when a column of vehicles he was escorting was shot at.

He had been flown to a military hospital in Moscow for treatment, but had died on June 7, it was quoted as saying.

The total official death toll among Russia’s military is now ten, but only nine of those were combat deaths. One serviceman committed suicide at the Hmeymim air base in October, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

Meanwhile, an aid convoy carrying food, medical supplies and other emergency supplies for 37,500 people has reached Al Waer, a besieged suburb of the Syrian city of Homs, U.N. humanitarian agency OCHA spokesman, Jens Laerke, said on Friday.

“The convoy to Al Waer was completed late last night and the team has returned safely to their base,” he said.

A second convoy, to supply the rest of the estimated 75,000 people in Al Waer, is planned in the next few days.

A separate convoy, to Afrin in northern Aleppo, had also gone ahead but a delivery to the Damascus suburb of Kafr Batna had not, due to “last minute logistical complications.”

The U.N. hoped it would proceed in the next few days, Laerke said.