MOSCOW/WASHINGTON – Russian jets struck 94 targets in war-torn Syria over the past 24 hours, the highest one-day tally since the Kremlin began its month-old bombing campaign, the Russian defence ministry said Monday.
“In 59 sorties in the past 24 hours, Russia’s air force hit 94 terrorist targets in the provinces of Hama, Idlib, Latakia, Damascus, Aleppo and Deir Ezzor,” the defense ministry said in a statement.
Moscow says the bombing campaign that began on Sept. 30 targets Islamic State jihadis and other “terrorists,” but the West claims the strikes have focused on moderate rebels fighting Russian-backed President Bashar Assad’s forces.
The defense ministry said the latest strikes had destroyed a command post and a base used by “terrorists” in the Aleppo region, as well as three defensive positions near the village of Salma in the coastal Latakia province.
The strikes also caused the destruction of an ammunition depot used by the Syrian al-Qaida affiliate Nusra Front in Eastern Ghouta, some 50 km northeast of Damascus, the ministry said.
Russian warplanes also hit an ammunition depot outside the city of Deir Ezzor and a convoy near the city of Palmyra in Homs province.
The Russian air force, which struck 285 targets in the past three days, is monitoring Syrian roads leading to conflict zones in an effort to disrupt rebel supply routes, Moscow said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said last week that Russia airstrikes had killed at least 446 people, more than a third of them civilians.
The Kremlin on Monday insisted Russian forces had been carefully avoiding residential areas.
“Our military officers have said many times that terrorists […] often hide in residential areas,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti state news agency.
“In this case [the military] makes a choice not to hit residential neighborhoods.”
On Monday, defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov dismissed a claim by the Syrian-American Medical Society that the Russian strikes had hit medical facilities, killing civilians and medical personnel.
“The true purpose of these organizations is to create unsourced information for designated media outlets to pick up,” Konashenkov said in comments broadcast on state television.
U.S.-led coalition forces have meanwhile not carried out any airstrikes in Syria for three days as of Monday, a lull that contrasts with the continued intensity of Russia’s bombing campaign.
According to Pentagon statistics, the last coalition strike was a drone attack on Oct. 22 that targeted an Islamic State vehicle and a “mortar tube.”
Russia, on the other hand, continues to maintain an intense tempo as it nears the end of its first month of bombing in Syria.
The Russian defense ministry said Monday it had hit 94 targets in just the past 24 hours.
U.S. defense officials say Russian sorties have no bearing on coalition actions in Syria and instead the situation reflects greater discrimination and refinement in terms of which targets are struck.
“It’s not because of Russia,” said Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.
“Air strikes ebb and flow. … We look at intelligence to find out where we have actionable targets, where we have targets that we can hit without causing civilian damage.
“We simply haven’t had any (recently) … but that doesn’t mean we are not on the lookout for more — and there will be more.”
The United States has led a coalition of 60-plus countries that since June 2014 has been conducting regular air raids against IS positions in Iraq and Syria.
As of Sunday, coalition aircraft had carried out a total of 2,679 airstrikes in Syria.
A senior defense official insisted there was “nothing to read” into the apparent slowdown, noting “there is any number of reasons why we could not strike a target.”
Russia and the United States last week signed a memorandum of understanding that establishes measures so their pilots steer clear of each other as they conduct separate bombing campaigns in Syria.
Moscow says its bombing campaign that began on Sept. 30 targets Islamic State jihadis and other “terrorists,” but the West claims the strikes have focused on moderate rebels fighting Russian-backed Assad’s forces.