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Monitor Group Says Russian Airstrikes in Syria Have Killed Nearly 500 Civilians

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that Russia has killed 419 Islamic State militants as well as 598 fighters from the al Qaeda-affiliated al Nusra Front. But it found that Russian strikes also killed some 485 civilians, 117 of them children.

by Reuters and VICE News
Nov 30 2015, 3:05pm

Imagen vía Ministerio de Defenza de Rusia/EPA

Since Russia's bombing campaign in Syria began two months ago, the effort has killed more than 1,500 people, almost a third of them civilians, a monitoring group said on Monday.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based group that has been tracking the Syrian civil war, Russian airstrikes have killed 419 members of the Islamic State (IS) terror insurgency in addition to another 598 fighters from the al Qaeda-affiliated al Nusra Front. But it found that the strikes have also killed some 485 civilians, 117 of which were children.

"The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reiterates its strong condemnation of the targeting of civilians," the group said in a statement.

Video filmed by local activists is described as showing the aftermath of a Russian airstrike yesterday in the town of Azaz, north of Aleppo. 

Russia began its bombing campaign in Syria September 30, intervening in the conflict in order to help Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime regain territory that it had lost to rebel groups in recent months. Though Russian rhetoric focused on IS, its initial air operations provoked criticism from the United States and other Western countries who accused Moscow of primarily targeting Western-backed rebel militias that are fighting Assad and IS. Since Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged that an IS-claimed bomb was responsible for downing a Russian airliner in the Sinai Peninsula, his military's attacks within Syria have increased in intensity.

Related: Russia Claims to Be Bombing Islamic State in Syria, But Doesn't Seem to Be Stopping Them

After traveling to Moscow last Thursday, French President Francois Hollande said he had agreed with Putin that these attacks would only hit IS and similar jihadi groups in Syria. But tensions between Russia and Turkey have frayed over the Turkish military's shooting down of a Russian fighter jet last Tuesday that it said was in Turkish airspace. Russia denies any wrongdoing and insists that its aircraft was not warned. The Turkish government refuses to apologize for the incident.

Russian airstrikes in northwest Syria have heavily targeted ethnic Turkmen areas, according to a Reuters data analysis of Russian Defense Ministry data. Ankara has traditionally expressed solidarity with the Syrian Turkmen, who are Syrians of Turkish descent.

In response to questions on Monday over recent raids by Moscow on ethnic Turkmen opposition groups near the northern Syrian-Turkish border, France's Foreign Ministry declared that Russian airstrikes must only target IS.

"There can be no possible ambiguity on the objectives being pursued, which must only target the destruction of Daesh," said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Romain Nadal, who referred to IS by the group's Arabic acronym.

Related: Russia, France, and UK Bomb Islamic State Targets, as Manhunt Continues for Paris Attackers

The US and its allies have also been steadily carrying out raids against IS, particularly since the waging of terror attacks in Paris that were claimed by the group. The US-led coalition said in a statement today that it had conducted 15 strikes against IS in seven cities in both Iraq and Syria on Sunday.