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1 Mar, 2017 19:59

Russia denies accusations of bombing US-backed opposition fighters in Syria

Neither Russian nor Syrian air forces had bombed positions of Syrian Arab coalition fighters supported by Washington in Syria on Tuesday, Russia's Defense Ministry has said, rejecting accusations put forward by a US military commander.

The Russian military in Syria had been contacted by their American counterparts, who "expressed concern" that Russian and Syrian aircraft could "carry out an unintended strike" at positions of Washington-backed fighters during an anti-terrorist operation, the Russian ministry said.

"To avoid any incidents, the US representative has provided exact coordinates of the US-backed opposition forces in the region to a Russian officer," the ministry said in a statement on Wednesday, adding that the information was "taken into account" by the Russian military.

"Not a single air strike on the regions specified by the US side was conducted by Russian or Syrian air forces," the statement said.

The defense ministry also said it would continue "effective cooperation" with the US military through established channels in order to fight the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorist group in Syria.

Earlier Wednesday, a US commander accused Russian and Syrian jets of bombing US-backed fighters in Syria. The incident was due to wrong information designating the targeted areas held by IS, the US official alleged.

On Tuesday, "we had some Russian aircraft and [Syrian] regime aircraft bomb some villages that I believe they thought were held by ISIS," US Army Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend told a Pentagon news briefing on Wednesday.

The US commander in Iraq said that in the targeted areas, which were villages close to the Syrian city of al-Bab near the Turkish border, were "some of our Syrian Arab coalition forces."

The American military advisers, who were some two miles away from the site, observed the strikes and called their Russian counterparts through a specially established emergency line, according to the US commander.

"Some quick calls were made through our deconfliction channels and the Russians acknowledged and stopped bombing there," Townsend said.

A communication link between Russian and US forces in the region was established months ago, with the military of the two countries having agreed to communicate in order to avoid incidents in the busy Syrian airspace.