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Russia Claims Cooperation With Opposition On Syria Air Strikes

Moscow says it used information from opposition fighters to launch attacks on Islamic State near the ancient city of Palmyra and other places (file photo)

Russia’s military claims it has carried out air strikes against "terrorist positions" in Syria, for the first time, based on information obtained from moderate Syrian opposition fighters who are battling President Bashar al-Assad's regime as well as Islamic State (IS) militants and Al-Qaeda fighters.

General Andrei Kartapolov, head of operations for the Russian Armed Forces' General Staff, said on November 3 that Russia's military has "reached agreement on joint operations against terrorists" and set up communications with moderate opposition fighters who are providing targeting information.

The United States and its allies involved in a separate air campaign against the IS militants have accused Russia of primarily attacking moderate opposition fighters in a bid to prop up Assad’s regime since Russian forces began air strikes in Syria on September 30.

Moscow now says it has set up "working coordination groups" with "opposition representatives" aimed at bolstering the fight against IS.

It said the identities of those involved in giving target coordinates to the Russian military are being kept secret.

It did not specify which opposition groups were involved.

In a statement on November 3, Russia's Defense Ministry said: "Such close cooperation will allow us to unite the efforts of the government troops with other patriotic forces in Syria that used to be in the opposition and act as a united front against the common enemy -- international terrorism."

Kartapoloc said 24 Russian air strikes on November 3 used information from the opposition fighters -- including attacks on IS fighters near the ancient city of Palmyra and near the eastern city of Deir ez-Zor.

Russia's Defense Ministry claimed the attacks near Palmyra destroyed a fortification, an underground bunker, and antiaircraft artillery.

But monitoring groups said civilians and historic sites were also destroyed.

Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, and other activists said strikes hit Palmyra's historic citadel, but the Kremlin denied those reports.

Elsewhere in Homs province, the Observatory said at least 10 people were killed and more wounded in Russian strikes on Al-Qaryatain, an IS-held town.

Russia said its jets have struck more than 250 targets in Syria since November 1, including IS targets and militants from the Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front.

In Aleppo province, Moscow said it hit a training camp for foreign fighters and an improvised explosive device production plant, and destroyed two armored vehicles in Hama province.

Russia's military said it also struck a key Al-Nusra Front command post on a strategic hill in the coastal Latakia region.

In a related development, a U.S. fighter jet and a Russian warplane flew within 8 kilometers of each other over Syria on November 3 in a planned test of new safety protocols aimed at avoiding an accidental clash.

The United States has ruled out any military coordination with Moscow in Syria.

But the U.S. and Russian militaries did agree in October to safety protocols, including how to communicate with each other during a close encounter in the air.

The Pentagon said a test of that provision lasted about 3 minutes on November 3 and took place in the skies of south central Syria.

Russia described the operation as a joint military exercise.

But, in a sign of the sensitivities, the Pentagon said calling it a military "exercise" was incorrect and that it was only a test.

With reporting by AP and AFP
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