Russian jets launched a fourth day of air raids in Syria on Saturday, hitting the Islamic State group’s main stronghold after claims Moscow was instead targeting moderate rebel factions.
The airstrikes destroyed an Islamic State command post near Raqqa as well as an underground bunker, the Russian Defense Ministry said Saturday, as Moscow pressed along with its bombing campaign in Syria.
“Over the past 24 hours SU-34 and SU-24M jets of the Russian airborne formation in Syria made more than 20 sorties over nine Islamic State infrastructure facilities,” the Defense Ministry said. A command post in the area of IS stronghold Raqqa as well as an underground bunker storing explosives had been destroyed, it added.
“Several Russian strikes hit IS positions west of Raqqa overnight and explosions were heard in the city,” Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told AFP.
Raqqa has acted as the extremist group’s de facto Syrian “capital” since 2013.
Russian warplanes killed 12 jihadists in Raqqa province in Thursday strikes, the Observatory said, after Moscow had come under fire from the United States for allegedly targeting moderate rebel groups in Syria.
Strikes ordered by Russia — a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad — have hit several provinces since Wednesday, including Aleppo in the north, Idlib in the northwest and Hama in central Syria.
The Russian Defense Ministry and the Kremlin said its planes bombed IS targets six times Friday and also hit the group’s jihadist rival, al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate al-Nusra Front.
US President Barack Obama later warned that Russia’s aggressive military campaign in support of Assad was a “recipe for disaster.”
He told reporters that Russia “doesn’t distinguish between (IS) and a moderate Sunni opposition that wants to see Mr Assad go.”
A US-led coalition has been bombing IS positions in Syriaerince September last year.
Russia said its sorties on Friday had hit an IS “command post and communications center” in Daret Ezza in Aleppo province, as well as bunkers and weapons depots in Maaret al-Numan and Habeet in Idlib province.
Russian raids also hit “an IS command post” in Kafr Zeita in Hama province.
According to the Observatory, IS does not control any of these areas.
Abdel Rahman had told AFP that seven civilians, including two children, were killed in Russian air attacks on Idlib province late Thursday.