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Russia does not rule out strikes against Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar Al-Sham

Moscow also believes that Washington’s proposal on banning flights in Syria can’t be working

MOSCOW, September 22./TASS/. Russia does not rule out strikes against groups that have merged with the terrorist organization Islamic State (outlawed in Russia), Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov told reporters on Thursday.

"We are witnesses to the continuing merger of these groups [Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar Al-Sham - TASS] with the organizations that have been universally recognized as terrorist. It goes without saying that the task of struggle against terrorism remains a key one for us," he said, when asked if these groups might now be regarded as legitimate targets for the Russians Aerospace Force. "I would not rule out any options in that sphere. But normalization of the situation requires implementation of what has been agreed on." 

Russia's alleged involvement in convoy attack

The diplomat reminded reporters about statements from the US side, including from Pentagon, that the US allegedly had confirmation of Russia’s involvement in an attack on a humanitarian convoy near Aleppo.

"We utterly and completely deny it and say that such far-reaching statements without analysis of objective facts, without a bid to look into other versions.... it is simply inadmissible to speak like this," the top diplomat said.

"We should not put the carrier before the horse, but sit down calmly and look what has to be done to keep the agreements afloat, how to give them a new lease of life, as we see no alternative in this sphere," the high-ranking diplomat told reporters.

At a session of the UN Security Council on Syria at the level of the heads of delegations taking part in the 71st session of the UN General Assembly, US Secretary of State John Kerry said facts furnished by Russia as to an attack on a humanitarian convoy at Aleppo on September 19, were allegedly contradicting one another.

However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia had presented all available information on the attack. The minister said Russia urged a thorough and professional investigation into that.

Since the news on an attack on the convoy came, the Russian Defense Ministry has stressed in its statements that Russian and Syrian warplanes conducted no strikes on the convoy.

An attack drone Predator, capable of hitting targets on the ground, was registered in the area where the UN humanitarian convoy came under attack near Aleppo in the evening of September 19, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Igor Konashenkov, said after the ministry analyzed objective air situation monitoring data.

"In the evening of September 19 an attack drone of the international coalition was registered in that area at an altitude of 3,600 meters. It was flying at a speed of about 200 kilometers per hour. The drone had taken off from Turkey’s Incirlik air base. Our air situation monitoring means identified the drone as Predator," Konashenkov said.

The drone, he explained, "entered airspace over the Urum al-Kubra community several minutes before the convoy caught fire." "And it left thirty minutes later," Konashenkov said.

Russia-US agreement on Syria

Ryabkov pointed out that Russia was not walking out of the agreement with the United States on Syria.

"We are not about to quit that agreement. On the contrary, we believe that the events of the past few days have underscored its super-relevance," he said. "Regrettably, the agreement has too many opponents, if not foes. We cannot but feel concern and alarm as we see this agreement defied by a number of actors - anti-government forces in Syria and their foreign sponsors."

"Regrettably, the US Administration is still unable to do what is required for the full implementation of the agreement," Ryabkov said. "To be more precise, to bring about the separation of the moderates and the terrorists. Nor can the United States guarantee the implementation of a number of other components of this agreement which we’ve been witnesses to over the past few days."

Ryabkov said he was referring to several incidents, including the strike against Syrian government troops.

"It is not a tragedy, it is a very dramatic development regarding the agreement as such. It is a heavy blow on its groundwork," he said.

According to the diplomat, chances to implement the agreement on Syria reached with the US have diminished after the incidents of the past few days.

"The agreement has too many foes. The events of the past few days dealt a direct blow on that agreement. Of course, we see no alternative to what is written down in that document," Ryabkov said. "We believe that the wording is rather balanced and apparently describes the maximum possible in this situation, a situation of an acute crisis and continuing tragedies, a situation where Russia and the United States remain considerably divided in conceptual terms as to what should be done and how for the sake of addressing this problem."

Ryabkov said the opponents of this agreement use "the straightest way of disrupting it - the way of provocations and the use of force and actions that force Syrian government forces to react to the ongoing events."

"We, too, cannot afford to stay aloof, bearing in mind that the task of eliminating terrorist groups that threaten not only Syria remain the focus of our attention," Ryabkov said.

"After these events the chances of the agreement’s implementation have dwindled, but there is no alternative to it. Efforts must be stepped up," he said.

Speculations regarding the likely disruption of the truce in Syria followed a series of incidents that took place over the past few days. The Syrian army’s command on September 17 said that an air raid on Deir ez-Zor left 62 Syrian troops killed and about 100 other people injured. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said planes of the "anti-Islamic State coalition" attacked Syrian government troops, encircled by IS terrorists in the area of Deir ez-Zor’s airdrome.

On Monday, September 19, a joint humanitarian convoy of the United Nations and the Syrian Red Crescent Society came under attack. Twenty people were reportedly killed. The US authorities claim that the convoy came under an air strike. The Russian Defense Ministry said a Predator combat drone of the US-led anti-terrorist coalition was in area of the UN convoy at the moment of the incident. Drones of this type are capable of attacking targets on the ground.

US proposal on banning flights in Syria

Moscow also believes that Washington’s proposal on banning flights in Syria can’t be working.

"I think this reflects Washington’s position on the responsibility of Damascus and as they claim of the Russian side for the strike on the humanitarian convoy," Ryabkov said, commenting on the US proposal to ban all flights in Syria.

The US came to this conclusion and found those guilty without carrying out a proper investigation into the incident and analysing the data provided by Russia’s Defense Ministry, he said.

"To find the way out of this situation that would suit the US and the groups patronized by the Americans, this scheme was proposed, but it cannot work," Ryabkov said, adding that this is until the US and other countries ensure the non-use of force by the structures "that are still convinced that only the war is the way to solve the problem."

Moscow cannot rely only on "some promises and signals," Ryabkov said. "Certain steps are needed and that’s why I’m not sure that the idea of the US Secretary of State is workable," he said, adding that the issue will be discussed later in the day by Russia’s delegation and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

A new meeting of the International Syria Support Group will be also held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, he said.