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Russia Urges 'Cooperation' With Assad After Damascus Shelling

At least ten people were reported killed and dozens more wounded when an Islamist rebel group launched a heavy barrage of rockets into Damascus on February 5. (file photo)

At least ten people were reported killed and dozens more wounded when an Islamist rebel group launched a heavy barrage of rockets into Damascus on February 5. (file photo)

Russia's Foreign Ministry has used a series of rebel rocket attacks on the Syrian capital to press for coordination between Damascus and the U.S.-led coalition in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group.

At least ten people were killed and another 50 wounded on February 5 when the Islamist rebel group Jaish al-Islam (the Islam Army) launched a heavy barrage of rockets into Damascus, according to the British-based monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The rebel faction, which has in the past received backing from Saudi Arabia, declared all of Damascus a "military zone" on February 3.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich tweeted in response to the bombardment that, during one of the rocket salvoes, a shell had hit the consular department of the Russian Embassy in Damascus.

Notably, in his tweets about the attack, Lukashevich did not mention that the rocket attacks on Damascus were carried out by Jaish al-Islam. The Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, however, used the Russian acronym for ISIS, another name for the Islamic State group, as a hashtag.

Lukashevich referred to the group responsible for the Damascus rocket attacks as "terrorists" and said that the attacks were a response to "government forces carrying out successful operations in a number of areas in Syria."

Like its ally the Assad government, Moscow makes no distinction between the Islamic State group and any of the armed rebel factions in Syria. Both Damascus and Moscow refer to all armed factions, including the moderate, Western-backed Free Syrian Army groups, as "terrorists."

Though it openly opposes Islamic State -- Russia's Supreme Court blacklisted both it and Syria's Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra as terror groups in December -- Moscow has repeatedly criticized the U.S.-led coalition against IS militants in Syria, on the grounds that it is unlawful because Washington and its allies have not asked permission from President Bashar al-Assad to carry out air strikes on Syrian soil. The United States has refused to do so, since requesting permission from Assad would be tantamount to accepting his legitimacy.

In recent weeks, while continuing to criticize the U.S-led coalition and to question its effectiveness, both Moscow and Damascus have indicated that they would be willing to cooperate with the United States in the fight against "terrorism." Syrian President Assad told the U.S. Foreign Affairs magazine in January that the potential for cooperation with the United States was "always there."

In his February 5 tweets, Lukashevich made it clear that Russia believes the fight against Islamic State is ineffective without such cooperation.

The Russian Foreign Ministry tweeted that "after several months of fighting" Kurdish militias had succeeded in retaking the town of Kobani.

"However, the lack of coordination does not allow for a speedy defeat of such powerful extremist organizations," the ministry added.

In comments that were reported in Russia's pro-Kremlin news outlets, Lukashevich elaborated on his tweets in a press briefing on February 5.

"The lack of coordination between those who are opposed to terrorists in Syria and between the Syrian government and the U.S.-led anti-terrorist coalition does not permit a quick defeat against such militarily powerful extremist groups like Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra," Lukashevich said.

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena


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