By Liz Sly and Andrew Roth,
BEIRUT — Russian warplanes have struck targets deep inside the Islamic State’s heartland province of Raqqa for the first time, Russia’s Defense Ministry said Friday.
The strikes were carried out against an Islamic State training camp and a command post near the city of Raqqa, expanding the scope of a three-day old air campaign that had previously focused on attacking rebel groups opposed to the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.
[Russia defends Syria airstrikes amid claims of blows to U.S.-backed rebels]
Those attacks continued Friday with one U.S.-backed rebel group in the northwestern province of Hama saying its bases had been hit for the sixth time in three days by Russian jets.
Defense Ministry official spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said the Raqqa strikes took place overnight Thursday and were among 18 sorties conducted over the previous 24 hours, bringing to 30 the total number of raids since Moscow launched its air campaign in Syria Wednesday.
Other targets hit included locations in the central province of Hama, where much of the countryside is controlled by an assortment of rebel groups ranging from moderate U.S.- backed rebels to the Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra.
Russia insists, however, that all of its strikes have been targeting the Islamic State, even though the group is not present in the other provinces hit by Russian warplanes.
Russian Defense Ministry officials on Thursday released a video showing what they said was a strike on an Islamic State base in the Hama province town of Latamneh. Speaking from Latamneh on Friday, a rebel spokesman said that the only military group in the town is the Free Syrian Army’s Tajamu al-Izza brigade, which has received U.S. weaponry and training in the past and has been the target of all the Russian strikes there.
“They are doing this for two reasons. Firstly because we are friends with the United States and they want to challenge the United States. And secondly to vanquish the Free Syrian Army on the ground to show the world that only extremists are fighting Assad and that therefore he should survive,” said the spokesman, Capt. Mustafa Moarati, before a huge explosion interrupted the call.
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It was the second Russian strike of the day and the sixth in three days, he said. “At …Read More