Russia has warned the US to stop bombing pro-Assad forces in eastern Syria, enforcing an exclusion zone around a Free Syrian Army base where American special forces are present.
Moscow had been relatively low-key about three US airstrikes, two in the past five days, on the forces which include Hezbollah and Iranian-backed Iraqi militia. But on Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (pictured) phoned US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry.
“Lavrov expressed his categorical disagreement with the US strikes on pro-government forces and called on him to take concrete measures to prevent similar incidents in future,” the ministry said.
The US is enforcing a 55-km (34-mile) exclusion zone around the Free Syrian Army base at Tanf, near the Iraqi and Jordanian borders. It first intervened in mid-May to stop Hezbollah and Iraqi militia establishing a forward position within the zone.
The confrontation has arisen because of sweeping advances by both the FSA and the pro-Assad forces against the Islamic State in the sparsely-populated Badia region this spring.
Lavrov told Tillerson that the zone had been declared by the US-led coalition unilaterally, without the consent of the Assad regime. He said this was unlike the four “de-escalation zones” proposed by Russia — accompanied by Turkey and Iran — at political talks in the Kazakh capital in Astana in early May.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said that, despite the dispute over the airstrikes, Lavrov and Tillerson confirmed their desire to step up co-operation to end the 75-month conflict.
Russia and the US have been holding talks on another de-escalation zone in southwestern Syria, near the Lebanese border and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Russian Defense Ministry: US Helping ISIS Leave Raqqa
The Russian Defense Ministry threw another jab at Washington, claiming the US and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces are letting Islamic State fighters leave the city of Raqqa.
After a seven-month offensive, the SDF finally entered the outskirts of Raqqa, the central ISIS position in northern Syria, last week.
Russian commander Sergey Surovikin maintained:
Instead of eliminating terrorists guilty of killing hundreds and thousands of Syrian civilians, the US-led coalition together with the Democratic Forces Union controlled by it enters into collusion with ringleaders of ISIS, who give up the settlements they had seized without fighting and head to the provinces where the Syrian government forces are active.”
SDF Advances in Raqqa; 50+ Civilians Reportedly Killed by US Strikes
Inside Raqqa, the SDF continued to advance in eastern and western districts on Saturday, amid claims of mass killing of civilians by US airstrikes supporting the offensive.
Former residents in touch with relatives in Raqqa said at least 50 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the last 24 hours in residential areas.
At least 10 people were slain and dozens injured in attacks on Nour Street in the center of the commercial area, according to the sources.
Another strike killed at least 14 people in the western neighbourhood of Jazra, where an internet cafe was struck.