Moscow’s Airstrikes Kill More Than 1,300, Monitor Says
Russian airstrikes in Syria have killed more than 1,300 people since Moscow began its air campaign on September 30, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The Observatory’s tally this week is more than double the figure it presented to the media three weeks ago, AFP reports.
The U.K.-based human rights organization said that of the 1,331 deaths it had documented in connection to Russian airstrikes across the country, 381 were fighters associated with the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS) and 547 were militants from the al-Qaida affiliated al-Nusra Front and other rebel groups.
Russian strikes were also responsible for the deaths of 403 civilians, including 97 children, according to the Observatory.
While Russian leaders have maintained that their aerial campaign is solely targeting ISIS and other “terrorists,” rebel groups – some of which are backed by the West – have accused Moscow of targeting more moderate rebel forces than jihadist militants.
Syrian Troops Gain Ground Thanks to Russian Strikes, Assad Says
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview released Sunday that his troops are taking ground on “nearly every front” thanks to Russia’s air campaign that began in late September.
“Now I can say that the army is making advancement in nearly every front … in many different directions and areas on the Syrian ground,” Assad said in an English-language interview with Hong Kong-based Phoenix television.
The situation in Syria, he said, had “improved in a very good way” since Russia began its military intervention almost two months ago.
While Russian strikes have reportedly boosted morale amongst Assad’s troops, monitors said the Syrian army has made little progress on the ground, AFP reports.
Moscow has taken a lead role in Syria since it launched militarily intervention on behalf of Assad, recently attending round-table talks in Vienna with other world powers. Earlier this month these talks produced an initial framework for the establishment of a transitional government and new elections within 18 months.
Assad said he preferred peace talks be held in Moscow, but that the first priority should be “defeating terrorism.”
When asked if he would run in elections, the beleaguered Syrian leader said it was his “right” to run but that it was “too early” to say if he intended to.
“(It) depends on how my feeling is regarding the Syrian people. I mean, do they want me or not?”
“You cannot talk about something that’s going to happen maybe in the next few years,” he said.
Turkey Seizes Huge Haul of Amphetamine Pills
Turkish authorities have seized nearly 11 million amphetamine pills along the Syrian border, reports said Friday.
Anti-narcotics police found 10.9 million pills of captagon, a synthetic stimulant drug believed to be playing a crucial part in fueling Syria’s violence, in two separate raids in the Hatay region along Turkey’s border with Syria this week.
The Turkish interior minister told news outlets Friday that the drug haul weighed in at almost two tons, AFP reports.
Captagon, a stimulant based on the amphetamine phenethylline, has been repeatedly connected to the civil war in Syria. Not only is the drug reportedly being produced in Syria, providing much-needed income for warring factions, but it also energizes militants and allows them to stay awake and engaged in battle for days on end.
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Top image: Refugees wait to be allowed to cross from the northern Greek village of Idomeni to southern Macedonia, on Friday, Nov. 20, 2015. The United Nations refugee agency says Macedonia has begun allowing only people from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan to cross its southern border from Greece, while Greek authorities say migrants of other nationalities are gathering on the Greek side of the border and blocking the crossing completely. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)