|Date: Oct 1, 2018|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|Three years of Russia strikes on Syria kill 18,000: observatory|
|BEIRUT: More than 18,000 people, half of them civilians, have been killed in Russian airstrikes on Syria since Moscow began its game-changing intervention exactly three years ago, an activist group said Sunday. Russia said its “accurate” strikes had killed 85,000 “terrorists.”|
A steadfast ally of Syria’s ruling regime, Russia began carrying out bombing raids in the country on Sept. 30, 2015 more than four years into the devastating conflict.
Since then, they have killed 18,096 people, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“That number includes 7,988 civilians, or nearly half of the total,” said observatory head Rami Abdel-Rahman. Another 5,233 Daesh (ISIS) militants were also killed in Russian strikes, with the rest of the dead including rebels and Islamist militants, the Britain-based monitor said.
Russia’s defense commission published different figures Sunday.
“All of the airstrikes have targeted and are still accurately targeting terrorist targets,” said commission chief Viktor Bondarev, cited by the Russian Interfax agency.
Human rights groups and Western governments have criticized Russia’s air war in Syria, saying it bombs indiscriminately and targets civilian infrastructure including hospitals.
The White Helmets, a Syrian rescue force that works in opposition areas, said in a report released Sunday that it had responded to dozens of strikes by Russia on buildings used by civilians since 2015.
They included Russian bombing raids on 19 schools, 12 public markets and 20 medical facilities over the past three years, as well as 21 of its own rescue centers.
“Russia has flaunted its disregard for agreements over safe zones, no-conflict zones, cessations of hostilities, and de-escalation zones by continuing with airstrikes on civilian spaces,” the White Helmets charged.
Russia has operated a naval base in Syria’s coastal Tartous province for decades, but expanded its operations to the nearby Hmeimim air base in 2015. It also has special forces and military police units on the ground in government-controlled parts of the country.
The airstrikes were crucial in helping troops loyal to President Bashar Assad retake swaths of the country, including Aleppo in 2016 and areas around Damascus, the rural center, and the south this year alone.
“The regime controlled 26 percent of Syrian territory” when Russia intervened, said Abdel-Rahman, compared with to two-thirds now.
In addition to the Russian and Syrian air forces, warplanes from the U.S.-led coalition fighting Daesh have also been carrying out bombing raids on Syria since September 2014.
Last week, the observatory said that U.S.-led coalition airstrikes on Syria had killed more than 3,300 civilians since the alliance began operations against Daesh targets.
The coalition said in a statement that it had conducted a total of 30,008 strikes between August 2014 and the end of August 2018.
It also said that during the month of August it had determined that an additional 53 civilians had been killed unintentionally, bringing the total to at least 1,114 civilian deaths since August 2014.
The military’s official tally is far below those of outside organizations. The monitoring group Airwars says at least 6,575 civilians have been killed by coalition strikes.
The observatory, which relies on sources inside Syria for its reports, says it determines whose planes carried out strikes according to type, location, flight patterns and munitions involved.