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Russia Demands That Envoys Document Syrian Civilian Deaths

Russia is demanding that foreign embassies in Moscow document what authorities called "outrageous" Western media reports that Russian air strikes have caused civilian deaths in Syria.

Deputy defense minister Anatoly Antonov contacted the military attaches of several Western countries as well as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and NATO over international media coverage of the monthlong bombing campaign, the defense ministry said October 27.

"We are accused not only of hitting the 'moderate' opposition but also civilian targets such as hospitals and also mosques and schools," Antonov said.

"As a result of this, according to Western media reports, non-combatants are allegedly being killed," he said, denouncing the reports as "anti-Russian smears."

"Today we invited the U.S., British, French, German, Italian, Saudi, Turkish, and NATO military attaches to provide an official explanation of the substance of the statements made, or to refute them," he said.

"This particularly concerns the outrageous accusations in a number of English-language media outlets of alleged strikes on hospitals," Antonov said.

If Russia "is not presented with evidence or official refutations, we will consider that these anti-Russian smears are part of an information war against Russia," Antonov said.

He added that he expected to hear back from the attaches in "a few days."

Syrian opposition groups, monitoring organizations, and charity groups operating in Syria have all reported that Russian strikes have caused civilian deaths.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a respected monitoring group based in London, said October 23 that Russian air strikes in Syria have killed at least 446 people, more than a third of them civilians.

The Syrian-American Medical Society, which operates several facilities in Syria, said October 22 that nine Russian air strikes have hit hospitals or field clinics.

Russia began its air campaign on September 30 to support of its ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The campaign has been criticized not only for causing civilian casualties but also for targeting rebel groups backed by the West more often than the Islamic State group or Al-Qaeda militants Russia says it is targeting.

With reporting by AFP, Interfax, and TASS
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