US-backed force says hit by Russian, regime strikes in east Syria

Beirut (AFP) – A US-backed force battling the Islamic State group in eastern Syria accused Russian warplanes on Saturday of bombing its fighters for the first time in the complex war.

But Russia’s military spokesman denied targeting the Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters supported by Washington.

“This is not possible. Why would we bomb them?” military spokesman Igor Konashenkov told AFP at the Hmeimim base, Moscow’s main outpost for its air operations in Syria.

The SDF and Russian-backed Syrian government forces are conducting parallel but separate offensives against IS in the strategic and oil-rich eastern province of Deir Ezzor.

Regime troops are waging an assault for the provincial capital, Deir Ezzor city, while SDF fighters battle the jihadists further east across the Euphrates River.

The SDF earlier said six of its fighters were wounded in Russian and regime bombing of an industrial area northeast of the city, about seven kilometres (four miles) from the east bank of the Euphrates.

“At 3:30 am (0030 GMT) on September 16, 2017, our forces east of the Euphrates River were targeted by Russian and Syrian regime warplanes in the Al-Sinaaiya area,” the SDF said.

“At a time when the SDF’s brave forces are scoring great victories against IS in Raqa and Deir Ezzor… some parties are trying to create obstacles to our progress,” the statement said.

– De-confliction line –

The SDF’s assaults against IS in Deir Ezzor and in Raqa further up the Euphrates Valley are both backed by the US-led coalition, while Syrian regime troops are getting air cover from Russia.

SDF fighters say they not coordinating their Deir Ezzor operations with the government or Russia.

But the coalition says there is a de-confliction line to prevent the two offensives from clashing.

The line agreed between Russia, the regime, the SDF and the coalition runs from Raqa province southeast along the Euphrates River to Deir Ezzor.

The skies over Syria have become increasingly congested as the six-year conflict has dragged on, with warplanes from the coalition, the Syrian government and Russia all carrying out air strikes.

Confrontations between the warplanes have been rare, but in June a US fighter jet shot down a Syrian warplane accused of bombing SDF units in the north.

On Friday, top adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Bouthaina Shaaban told Al-Manar television that it was up to Russia and the US to see that the SDF and Syria’s army do not clash.

“Whether it’s the…

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