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28 Sep, 2017 09:46

Russian MoD denies it killed 150 civilians in Idlib airstrikes

Russian MoD denies it killed 150 civilians in Idlib airstrikes

The Russian Defense Ministry has denied claims that its planes killed over 150 civilians in airstrikes in Syria’s Idlib province last week, saying Russian planes do not target civilian areas. The allegations were made by the controversial White Helmets group.

Earlier, Reuters cited a White Helmets spokesman as claiming that members of the group had recovered 152 bodies of civilians killed by “the Russian and regime bombing campaign.” The group was mentioned by its other name, the Syrian Civil Defense, which it took from the government-run organization with a decades-long history.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov called the group “crooks” and criticized Reuters for giving them credibility.

“Russian Air Force planes do not target residential areas and villages to avoid civilian casualties,” he stressed. “They target terrorist bases, hardware and weapons storage sites, which are identified by surveillance drones and cross-checked through other channels.”

The Russian general said all the recent airstrikes in Idlib governorate had targeted the forces of the terrorist group best known as Al-Nusra Front, which was responsible for an attack on Russian and Syrian troops in neighboring Hama governorate last week.

“Thanks to the actions of the Russian Air Force in Syria, this Nusra operation was thwarted and the terrorist forces involved were destroyed,” Konashenkov said.

The White Helmets group, often praised by Western media as courageous rescuers helping civilians caught in a battle zone, has a long history of controversies. Its members were caught filming staged rescues, allegedly helping militants dispose of bodies after summary executions and other dubious actions. Critics say the group is nothing more than a foreign-funded propaganda arm, furthering the cause of deposing the government in Damascus.

Last week, several hardcore Islamist groups based in Idlib, an area designated as a de-escalation zone by a Russian-Turkish-Iranian initiative, launched an attack targeting positions of pro-Damascus troops and a unit of Russian military police, which acted as monitors of the ceasefire. The Russian troops were in danger of being captured but were rescued by an emergency operation of Russian special operations forces supported by Russian warplanes.

Russia responded to the attack against its troops by launching a series of airstrikes and cruise missiles, which, Moscow said, targeted the militant groups responsible for it.