GROUND attacks by President Assad’s regime forces, in Syria, were carried out for the first time after a third wave of intense Russian air-strikes, it was reported on Wednesday.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the ground assault, which involved pro-government militias, targeted four rebel positions. The group said there was also "heavy use of surface-to-surface shelling by the regime in the province". Russian planes carried out the strikes over the Syrian province of Hama, and areas in Idlib, on Wednesday.
Tensions were high after Russia launched a second wave of airstrikes on Syria on Wednesday of last week, and said that Islamic State (IS) had been targeted. The Russian Defence Ministry said that its planes had destroyed 12 terrorist targets, including an ammunition depot and control centres.
Russia’s actions came immediately after world leaders met this week at the United Nations in New York, to explore ways of ending the conflict in Syria (News, 2 October). Last week, the Russian parliament backed the request from the Pres-ident, Vladimir Putin, to allow airstrikes by Russian forces. The first attacks took place the same day, near Homs.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that 27 people, including six children, had been killed.
President Putin later dismissed reports that civilians had been killed in the strikes as an "information attack". He said that Moscow was liaising with the United States on Syria. In a live broadcast from the Kremlin, he said that Russia was "ready for such information attacks. . . The first reports of civilian casualties came even before our jets took off."
The US has disputed that the airstrikes hit US-trained rebel groups who are opposing Syrian regime forces, including the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, in the north-west of the country. The US Defence Secretary, Ashton Carter, said on Friday that the attack was "unlikely to have hit Islamic State targets", and that the strategy was "doomed to failure".
Key diplomats are reported to be planning talks between the US and the Russian military "as soon as possible".