MOSCOW/BEIRUT: The Kremlin said on Thursday that it was very alarmed by a report from the Russian Defense Ministry alleging that a US spy plane coordinated a drone attack on Russia’s Hmeimim air base in Syria in January.
Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said earlier on Thursday that a US Poseidon-8 spy plane had helped coordinate an attack by 13 drones on the base, the TASS news agency reported.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he could not rule out that President Vladimir Putin would raise the alleged drone attack with US President Donald Trump. The two leaders are expected to meet in Paris on Nov. 11.
Meanwhile, opposition fighters and radicals traded fire with regime forces in northern Syria overnight, their “fiercest” exchanges since a buffer zone deal was announced for the area last month, a monitor said Thursday.
A 15- to 20-km wide “demilitarized zone” was announced by rebel backer Turkey and government ally Moscow on Sept. 17 to separate government troops from opposition fighters in their last major bastion in Idlib province and adjacent areas.
Shelling has continued intermittently, however, and escalated dramatically late Wednesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“It was the fiercest bombing yet since Sept. 17,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Britain-based monitoring group.
“Syrian government rocket and artillery fire killed one girl in Kafr Hamra,” an Aleppo province town inside the declared buffer zone.
Opposition shelling from inside the zone killed three civilians in regime-held territory earlier this week.
Late on Wednesday, rocket fire by both radicals and Turkish-backed fighters hit second city Aleppo, wounding 10 people, Abdel Rahman said.
State news agency SANA gave the same casualty toll and said the army responded against the sources of the fire north and northwest of the city.
The National Liberation Front, the Turkish-backed rebel alliance which is the main armed group in that area, said it was responding to regime violations of the truce deal with “light and medium weapons.”
Under the deal agreed by Russia and Turkey, the fighters were supposed to have removed all heavy weapons from the buffer zone by Oct. 10.
“Radical” fighters — taken to mean Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), the radical alliance which is the dominant faction in Idlib, and other hard-liners — were supposed to leave the zone by Oct. 15.
But 10 days on there is still no sign of any pullout or of the planned monitoring patrols by the deal’s cosponsors, the observatory said.
Syrian pro-regime newspaper Al-Watan said the radicals’ failure to withdraw “provides the justification for the Syrian army and Russian air force to start a military operation to oust (HTS) from the area.”
But both Russia and Turkey have said the truce deal remains on course despite the missed deadline, and their leaders are to be joined by their French and German counterparts for a four-way summit on Syria in Istanbul on Saturday.