Assad allies vow to keep battling ‘terrorism’ in Syria

Assad allies vow to keep battling ‘terrorism’ in Syria

Russia air strike on Idlib on Saturday killed 18 civilians including five children

Beirut: The Russian and Iranian army chiefs vowed on Saturday to keep battling “terrorists” in Syria, a day after a US missile onslaught on a Syrian airbase following a suspected chemical weapons attack.

The statement by the Iranian and Russian military chiefs said they both vowed to continue their military cooperation in support of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad “until the total defeat of the terrorists and those that support them”, according to Iran’s Mehr news agency.

The American strikes “aim at slowing the victories of the Syrian army and its allies, and reinforcing terrorist groups”, they said in a statement.

Iran and Russia are Al Assad’s closest allies, and label all opponents of his regime as “terrorists”.

Both Tehran and Moscow have defended Al Assad against Western allegations that his regime carried out the suspected chemical weapons attack on Khan Shaikhun.

General Valery Gerasimov and Major General Mohammad Bagheri spoke by phone and “condemned the American operation against a Syrian airbase which is an aggression against an independent country”, Iran’s state news agency IRNA said.

US warships in the Mediterranean launched a barrage of 59 cruise missiles at Shayrat airbase in Syria early on Friday, after 87 people including 31 children were killed in a suspected aerial chemical attack on rebel-held Khan Shaikhun.

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Another air strike on Saturday on the same town in the northwestern province of Idlib killed a woman, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

It said it was unclear if the latest strike was by Syrian warplanes or those of Damascus’s ally Russia.

The monitor also reported an air strike on Urum Al Joz, another Idlib town, on Saturday that killed 18 civilians including five children.

The Observatory said the Urum Al Joz raid was believed to have been carried out by Russian aircraft.

Idlib province is controlled by a rebel alliance that includes a former Al Qaida affiliate, and is regularly targeted by both the Syrian government and its Russian ally.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Washington of “playing the terrorism game”, during his first phone talks with his US counterpart Rex Tillerson since the US air strikes on Syria.

A foreign ministry statement said Lavrov also reaffirmed Russia’s position that accusations that the Syrian regime had launched a chemical weapons attack on Khan Shaikhun “are not in line with reality”.

Much of the international community accused Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s government of responsibility for Tuesday’s suspected chemical attack on Khan Shaikhun, though Damascus denied responsibility.

The strike prompted Washington to take its first direct military action against Al Assad’s government, with missiles raining down on the Shayrat airbase in central Syria.