Middle East

Russia hits ISIS targets in Aleppo, denies Palmyra strikes

In this file image posted on a militant website by the Aleppo branch of ISIS on July 3, 2015, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, a militant smashes items that the group claims are smuggled archaeological pieces from the historic central town of Palmyra, Syria. (militant website via AP, File)

BEIRUT: Russian jets hit ISIS targets in the northern province of Aleppo, Syrian state television and an activist group said Tuesday, but Moscow's military denied reports that it also struck the ancient city of Palmyra.

Syrian state TV had quoted a military source as saying that Russian strikes destroyed 20 vehicles and three weapons depots in ISIS-held Palmyra. In Aleppo, they hit the towns of Al-Bab and Deir Hafer, about 20 km (10 miles) east of a military airport currently besieged by ISIS fighters, according to the report.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group tracking Syria's civil war, said the Palmyra strikes killed 15 ISIS fighters.

"It was the heaviest Russian attack on Palmyra," Observatory director Rami Abdulrahman said. Across Syria, Russian jets carried out at least 34 airstrikes in the last 24 hours, the Observatory said.

But the Russian defense ministry later Tuesday dismissed reports that its planes had launched airstrikes against Palmyra as false, the TASS news agency reported.

"All reports by foreign media that Russian planes allegedly struck the city of Palmyra are an absolute lie," Major-General Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the ministry, was quoted as saying.

"Our planes in Syria do not strike populated areas and especially ones with architectural monuments."

The Observatory said another four ISIS fighters were killed near Raqqa, the eastern city which has been the group's stronghold in Syria for the last two years.

Al-Manar television, run by the Lebanese Hezbollah group which is allied to President Bashar Assad, said Russian planes also carried out four raids in the Jabal al-Zawiya area in the northwestern province of Idlib.

ISIS forces captured Palmyra in May, an advance which brought them closer to the core of government-held territory in western Syria. It also put the city's Roman-era ruins under the militants' control.

Syria's antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim said on Sunday ISIS fighters blew up Palmyra's Arch of Triumph, one of the most treasured monuments in the 2,000-year-old city. They had already destroyed temples and other antiquities.

Russia has carried out dozens of strikes in Syria since launching its air campaign last Wednesday.

While Moscow has said its intervention targets the hardline ISIS fighters who control much of eastern and northern Syria, many of the Russian strikes so far have hit rival insurgent forces opposed to Assad.

Russia said on Saturday it would step up it airstrikes in Syria, where a U.S.-led coalition of Western and Arab forces has been waging a year-long air campaign against ISIS and across the border in neighboring Iraq.

So far, according to Russian defense ministry statements, it has carried out roughly 20 sorties per day.





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