Russia denies carrying out strikes on US-backed forces in eastern Syria
DELIL SOULEIMAN (AFP/File)
A US-backed force battling the Islamic State group in eastern Syria said six of its fighters were wounded on Saturday in air strikes by Russian and regime warplanes, however Russia has rejected the accusation.
The Syrian Democratic Forces said the strikes hit their fighters on the east bank of the Euphrates River in Deir Ezzor province at 3:30am local time.
The SDF and Russian-backed government forces have been conducting parallel but separate offensives against IS in the province. It marked the first time the SDF, an alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters, have said they have been hit by Russia.
Russia's military on Saturday denied to AFP that its warplanes had carried out the bombing.
"This is not possible. Why would we bomb them?" said military spokesman Igor Konashenkov at the Hmeimim base on Syria's coast.
The strike came only a day after a senior adviser to Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad said that the regime would not shy away from attacking any "illegitimate foreign force".
“Whether it’s the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), or Daesh or any illegitimate foreign force in the country... we will fight against them so our land is freed completely from any aggressor,” Bouthaina Shaaban told the Hezbollah-affiliated Al Manar TV station.
Shaaban also appeared to push the theory that the US-backed forces who have mounted a major offensive to retake IS' de fact capital, Raqaa, are actually working in tandem with the group.
She said the SDF had retaken territory in Syria's northeast "without any fighting".
The SDF is a multi-ethnic coalition of forces that have been advised by the US and other countries, predominantly made up of Kurdish and Arab forces, along with contingents of smaller minority groups such as Assyrians.
There was no immediate reaction from the US-led coalition helping local forces dislodge IS.
"At 3:30 am (0030 GMT) on September 16, 2017, our forces east of the Euphrates River were targeted by Russian and Syrian regime warplanes in the Al-Sinaaiya area," the SDF said.
It said six of its fighters were wounded.
Al-Sinaaiya is an industrial area northeast of the city of Deir Ezzor, about seven kilometres (four miles) from the east bank of the Euphrates.
"At a time when the SDF's brave forces are scoring great victories against IS in Raqa and Deir Ezzor... some parties are trying to create obstacles to our progress," the statement said.
The SDF's assaults against IS in Deir Ezzor and in Raqa further up the Euphrates Valley are both backed by the US-led coalition, while regime troops are getting air cover from Russia.
SDF fighters say they not coordinating their Deir Ezzor operations with the government or Russia.
But the coalition says there is a de-confliction line to prevent the two offensives from clashing.
The line agreed between Russia, the regime, the SDF and the coalition runs from Raqa province southeast along the Euphrates River to Deir Ezzor.
The skies over Syria have become increasingly congested as the six-year conflict has dragged on, with warplanes from the coalition, the Syrian government and Russia all carrying out air strikes.
Confrontations between the warplanes have been rare, but in June a US fighter jet shot down a Syrian warplane accused of bombing SDF units in the country's north.
Syria's crisis erupted with protests demanding the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad in 2011, but it has since morphed into a complex, multi-front war that has killed 330,000 people and displaced millions.
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If Russia rejects it is very likely true. Russia as a matter of policy NEVER recognizes anything. C Crimea & Ukraine. Although I don't feel sorry for Ukraine.