By Andrew Roth and Daniela Deane,
MOSCOW — Russian officials vehemently defended the country’s airstrike campaign in Syria Thursday, denying reports of civilian deaths and Western accusations that the country was targeting U.S.-backed rebels instead of the Islamic State.
Gennady Zyuganov, a member of parliament and leader of Russia’s Communist party, called the accusations “total rubbish.”
Vasily Likhachov, from Russia’s lower house of parliament, described the claims as“the latest anti-Russian attack” after “the pendulum of public international opinion had swung back in the direction of Russia,” the Interfax news service reported.
The Russian ambassador to France, Alexander Orlov, said Moscow’s intervention came after a year of airstrikes by the U.S. and its partners had failed to dislodge Islamic State extremists in Syria, the Associated Press reported from Paris.
Orlov said the accusations formed part of a “war of disinformation,” saying Russian officials had warned the U.S. “via confidential channels” of where they planned to strike, the AP reported. U.S. officials say they were only given notice Wednesday.
[Washington weighs next move]
U.S. officials dispute Moscow’s claim that its aircraft targeted the Islamic State, the brutal extremist group that controls much of Syria and Iraq. Instead, U.S. officials said the strikes appeared to target opponents of Syria’s embattled President Bashar al-Assad, a key Russian ally. Those hit include U.S.-backed units that were trained and armed by the CIA, officials said.
“We are acting transparently,” Orlov said in Paris, the AP reported. The diplomat predicted Syria could be ready for “free elections” within a year.
Russia Wednesday launched its largest military intervention in the Middle East in its history, sending Russian warplanes on bombing runs into the conflict in Syria crowded with Islamist and secular rebel groups, the army of the embattled Syrian leader, and the U.S.-led coalition that has been launching airstrikes since last year.
Russian airstrikes added an unpredictable new element to the four-year-old Syrian civil war, which now could be taking on a deadly world dimension.
Western officials accused Russia of targeting more moderate rebel forces in the Syrian province of Homs, which they say are hundreds of miles away from frontline positions held by the Islamic State.
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