The United Nations' chief has suggested that an air strike against a school in western Syria which killed 28 people, including 22 children, may amount to a war crime, as Syrian activists and Western diplomats blamed Russian or Syrian forces.
Russia's Foreign Ministry denied that neither Russian nor Syrian government aircraft were involved in the attack, which occurred on October 26 in Idlib Province, southwest of Aleppo.
Russian and Syrian jets have been pounding parts of Aleppo, trying to dislodge rebel forces and extremist fighters there, and both countries are claiming a major strategic victory in a civil war that has lasted nearly six years. Syria is a key ally of Moscow, which supplies it with major weaponry and technical support while also flying sorties against opposition fighters.
Russia Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told journalists on October 27 that allegations Russian forces were involved in the strike on the school were "a lie." The Defense Ministry also insisted that neither Russia nor Syria had carried out any strikes in the Aleppo area over the last nine days.
"The Russian Federation has nothing to do with this terrible tragedy, with this attack," Zakharova said.
The White House, however, rejected those denials.
"We don't know yet that it was the Assad regime or the Russians that carried out the air strike, but we know it was one of the two," spokesman Josh Earnest said on October 27.
"Even if it was the Assad regime that carried it out, the Assad regime is only in a position to carry out those kind of attacks because they are supported by the Russian government," he said.
Russia Claims U.S. 'Destabilization'
Zakharova also blamed the actions of the U.S.-led international coalition fighting the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria for destabilizing the situation.
She said Russia had documented "instances of supplies of U.S.-made antitank systems and portable air-defense systems to militants" fighting against the Syrian government."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, condemned the attack on the school, saying in a statement that, if the attack was "deliberate," it "may amount to a war crime."
Speaking at an annual meeting of Russia experts, President Vladimir Putin complained that his efforts to reach a deal with U.S. President Barack Obama on ending the civil war in Syria have been thwarted by "forces" in Washington.
"A united front to defeat terrorism has in fact not been created," Putin said. "In Washington there were forces that did their best to ensure our agreements did not take off."
"It seemed that after long negotiations, enormous efforts and complicated compromises, a united front for the struggle against terrorism started taking shape," he said. "However, that did not happen."
The Obama administration has accused Moscow of stoking the conflict in Syria with ongoing operations in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his war against Islamic State militants and more moderate groups seeking his ouster.
With reporting by Reuters, TASS, and AP