Russia on Sunday said it had bombed ten new Islamic State group targets as it prepared to ramp up its bombing campaign in Syria.
“Over the past 24 hours SU-34, SU-24M and SU-25 jets made 20 sorties,” the defence ministry said. “Ten infrastructure targets of ISIL bandit groups have been struck,” it said, referring to IS.
Russian bombing raids against what Moscow says are Islamic State targets went into their fifth day despite criticism from Washington and its allies that the military action may be strengthening the jihadists.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday that Moscow’s bombing campaign in Syria is “unacceptable”, warning that Russia is making a “grave mistake”.
“The steps Russia is taking and the bombing campaign in Syria is unacceptable in any way… Unfortunately, Russia is making a grave mistake,” Erdogan told a news conference at Istanbul airport before leaving for a visit to France.
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said that Russia’s Western partners had failed to explain the term “moderate opposition” as monitors claimed that Russian jets had bombed two Syrian villages, killing one person.
Putin, who met the leaders of France and Germany in Paris on Friday, had “expressed a lively interest in the subject and asked what the difference between the moderate opposition and the immoderate opposition is,” Dmitry Peskov said on television late Saturday.
“So far, no one really has managed to explain what the moderate opposition is.”
Washington accuses Russia of seeking to buttress Syria’s Bashar al-Assad blamed for unleashing a conflict that has killed more than 240,000 people over the past four years and making little distinction between Western-backed moderate opposition and IS fighters.
But Moscow is keen to turn the tables on Washington, suggesting it is Washington and its allies that often hit the wrong targets.
“When the conversation has turned to this, our president remembered,” Peskov said of the Paris talks.
“He also remembered the wedding in Yemen and so on,” Peskov added, referring to more than 130 people killed during the recent bombing of a wedding for which the Saudi-led coalition denied responsibility.
An apparent US air strike on an Afghan hospital that killed 19 people on Saturday is also expected to play into the Kremlin’s hands.
US President Barack Obama called Russia’s intervention a “recipe for disaster” but pledged Washington would not be drawn into a proxy war.
– ‘Backing butcher Assad’ –
British Prime Minister David Cameron said Russia was “backing the butcher Assad and helping him and really making the situation worse.”
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls for his part urged Moscow to direct strikes at IS jihadists alone.
But some in Europe say Russia has to have a greater role in the plan to eradicate the jihadists.
“It is obvious that if we are not successfully making peace in Syria, then the migratory pressure will not decrease in Europe,” Hungary’s foreign minister Peter Szijjarto told the UN General Assembly.
Putin has said Moscow needs to hunt down IS militants before they cross into Russia, which has a large Muslim population.
On Sunday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that “warplanes, believed to be Russian, carried out many strikes against two villages in the north of Homs province.”
One person was killed and others injured, it said.
The areas hit by the strikes, are largely controlled by rebels, the Al-Nusra Front and other Islamist groups, the observatory said.
On Saturday, Moscow sounded an upbeat note, praising the results of the first three days of strikes.
“Panic and desertion have started in their ranks,” a senior officer of the General Staff, Colonel General Andrei Kartapolov said.
“Some 600 mercenaries have abandoned their positions and are trying to find their way into Europe,” he said, adding that Moscow would ramp up the aerial campaign.
Russia also said Saturday that, over the previous 24 hours, fighter jets had destroyed a number of IS targets and dropped a concrete busting BETAB-500 bomb on a command post in the area of Raqa.
The Observatory said Saturday that six civilians, including a woman and her four daughters, were killed in Jabal al-Zawiya, Idlib province, in the strikes thought to have been carried out by Russian warplanes.
– Pull back US-trained staff –
Another four suspected Russian strikes hit the IS-held town of Al-Qaryatain, in Homs province, said the group.
But raids ordered by Moscow have also hit areas controlled by moderate groups and even prompted a claim by US Senator John McCain that Russian jets had killed rebel soldiers trained and funded by the CIA.
Kartapolov of the General Staff said that Russia had recommended that Washington pull out “those valuable employees who were trained at the expense of American taxpayers.”
Russia said its strikes had destroyed IS positions in northern Aleppo province, Idlib province and in Hama in central Syria.
The Observatory says Russian strikes have killed several civilians and wounded doctors in a raid on a hospital in Hama.