Syria charges U.S.-led attack on its forces

The Syrian military charged Saturday that U.S.-led coalition aircraft had struck a Syrian army base in an attack that the Russian defense ministry said killed 62 Syrians.

The U.S. military said late Saturday that the coalition had halted an air raid against the Islamic State group in eastern Syria after being told by Russia that it might have struck Syrian government forces.

The Syrian General Command, in its statement, called the purported attack on the Syrian Arab Army a "serious and blatant aggression" against Syria and its army, the Syrian Arab News Agency reported.

The exchange comes against a backdrop of U.S. and Russian attempts to implement a cease-fire agreement that would allow the two  countries to work together to target Islamic State extremists as well as al-Qaeda-linked rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

Under the deal, Assad’s forces would refrain from striking areas held by other opposition forces backed by the U.S.

The statement by the U.S. Central Command said “the airstrike was halted immediately when coalition officials were informed by Russian officials that it was possible the personnel and vehicles targeted were part of the Syrian military.”

U.S. officials said its forces had hit Islamic State, or ISIL, forces in the same area in the past and had been tracking them for a significant amount of time before the latest strike.

"Syria is a complex situation with various military forces and militias in close proximity, but coalition forces would not intentionally strike a known Syrian military unit," U.S. officials said in the statement. "The coalition will review this strike and the circumstances surrounding it to see if any lessons can be learned."

The Syrian General command charged that the U.S.-led strike in the al-Tharda Mountains around the Deir El-Zour airport in eastern Syria "paved the way for Islamic State terrorists to attack the position and take control of it."

It said the attack showed that the U.S. and its allies were not in fact interested in fighting terrorism.

In Moscow, Russia's Defense Ministry spokesman, Major-General Igor Konashenkov, citing the Syrian General Command, said 62 LSyrian soldies wree killed and over 100 injured, the state-backed RT.com reports.

Konashenkov said the aircraft that carried out the bombings -- two F-16 jet fighters and two A-10 support aircraft -- had entered Syrian airspace from Iraqi territory.

Even if the bombardment of the Syrian government troops was a mistake, the spokesman said, it is still a consequence of Washington’s unwillingness to coordinate its anti-terror efforts with Moscow.

The Fatah al-Sham Front, linked to al-Qaeda and previously known as the Nusra Front, is deeply embedded in rebel-held areas and fights alongside more moderate groups.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday questioned the U.S. commitment to the shaky, week-old cease-fire, suggesting that Washington wasn’t prepared to break with “terrorist elements” battling Assad’s forces.

Both sides have alleged dozens of violations, and aid convoys have been unable to enter rebel-held parts of the northern city of Aleppo — a key opposition demand.

Washington has warned Russia that unless aid is delivered to Aleppo, it will not move ahead with the formation of the joint coordination center.

The U.N. has accused Assad’s government of obstructing aid access to the contested city. The Russian military says insurgents have held up the delivery by firing on government positions along the main route leading into besieged, rebel-held districts, in violation of the cease-fire.

The Syrian government said it has done all that is necessary to facilitate the entry of aid convoys to Aleppo, but that armed groups have failed to withdraw from the supply routes and are committing “dangerous, provocative acts,” the Associated Press reports.

Russia’s military said Syrian rebels violated the cease-fire dozens of times over the past day, including with strikes on military and civilian targets in Aleppo.

The Interfax news agency quoted Col. Sergei Kopytsin as saying Saturday that mortar fire and homemade rockets struck Aleppo 26 times. Russian news agencies cited another official, Lt. Gen. Vladimir Savchenko, as saying there had been 55 violations throughout the country. Syria’s state news agency SANA said insurgents have violated the cease-fire 12 times in the last 12 hours. No casualties were reported.

Contributing: Jim Michaels in Washington


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