Russian airstrikes hit Syrian city as Islamic State tightens siege, executes prisoners: observer

AFP-JIJI

The Russian military said Wednesday it had bombed the Syrian province of Deir Ezzor after a deadly Islamic State group assault saw jihadis tighten their siege of the provincial capital.

“The Russian operation conducted military operations only in the provinces of Latakia and Deir Ezzor in light of unfavorable weather conditions and to avoid risks for the civilian population,” Russian news agencies quoted military spokesman Igor Konashenkov as saying.

Konashenkov added that Russian warplanes had struck 57 targets in 16 combat sorties in these two provinces in the past day.

The military spokesman also said Russia had delivered 50 tons of humanitarian aid to the besieged city of Deir Ezzor on Jan. 15.

More than 40 tons of humanitarian cargo were delivered earlier this week to the blockaded eastern Syrian city, the defense ministry said Tuesday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, also reported heavy Russian strikes in Deir Ezzor near where Islamic State has launched a bloody offensive on the provincial capital.

It said at least three people had been killed and more wounded in the strikes and that heavy clashes were continuing between regime and Islamic State fighters.

The monitor said Islamic State had executed at least eight regime troops Wednesday, including six who had been taken prisoner the previous day. At least one of those executed was beheaded.

Another seven regime troops were killed in fighting with Islamic State, the monitor said.

Islamic State launched its offensive on Deir Ezzor city on Saturday, with dozens of its fighters carrying out suicide bomb attacks as they stormed government positions.

The jihadis now control 60 percent of the city, intensifying a siege that had already caused fear and hardship for the roughly 200,000 people still living there.

Around 70 percent of the city’s remaining residents are women and children, according to the United Nations.

The Observatory said late on Tuesday that Islamic State had released 270 of more than 400 civilians it had abducted during its initial assault on Deir Ezzor.

The Russian military said Tuesday its jets had struck 579 “terrorist targets” in 157 combat sorties in the Aleppo, Raqqa, Latakia, Homs, Hama and Deir Ezzor provinces.

Russia began an aerial campaign in support of Syria’s government on Sept. 30.

The Observatory said Wednesday that over 3,000 people had been killed in the strikes so far, including 1,015 civilians.

Moscow has dismissed allegations of civilian deaths in its strikes as “absurd.