Rockets Hit Russian Embassy amid Pro-Russian Gathering in Damascus
MOSCOW: Artillery shells hit grounds of the Russian Embassy in Damascus on Tuesday, amid Moscows escalated bombing campaign in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed that one shell landed on a sports facility and another on a housing complex on the territory of the embassy, Others exploded near a rally in support of Moscow’s airstrikes against opponents of the Syrian government, Russian and Syrian state news agencies reported.
“It’s a blatant act of terror meant to scare those who support the battle against terrorism,” Mr. Lavrov said in Moscow, adding that no members of the diplomatic mission were hurt in the attack. The Russian state-controlled news agency RIA said some at the rally were injured.
Russia, which sent its air forces to Syria in support of Mr. Assad late last month, has boosted its daily jet fighter sorties in recent days as Mr. Assad carries out a ground offensive. The Defense Ministry said on Tuesday its warplanes had carried out 88 sorties in the past day, hitting field headquarters and weapons arsenals in the provinces of Raqqa, Idlib, Hama, Latakia and Aleppo.
Russian President Vladimir Putin says jet fighters are carrying out strikes against “terrorist groups.” The U.S. accuses the Kremlin of targeting moderate opposition groups north and south of Damascus.
A Syrian holding portraits of President Bashar al-Assad, right, and Valdimir Putin at the gathering near the Russian embassy in Damascus on Oct. 13. Several demonstrators were injured when two shells exploded near the embassy building. Photo: Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
The Russian strikes have raised tensions between Moscow and the West, whose ties have already been strained by the Ukraine crisis. Mr. Putin on Tuesday said the U.S. has refused to share intelligence with Russia on legitimate targets. “We asked: ‘Give us targets that you think are 100% terrorist,’ ” Mr. Putin said in Moscow.
At a news conference in Boston on Tuesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the U.S. and Russia will hold a third round of talks aimed at avoiding conflicts between their military air campaigns in Syria. The U.S. defense chief called on Russia to change its “failing strategy,” and until then act professionally and abide by “basic safety procedures.”
Moscow has framed its military intervention in Syria as necessary support for the country’s legitimate ruler while cracking down on the threat Russia faces from Islamic State, which has gained a foothold in Russia’s mostly Muslim North Caucasus region.
A Moscow court Tuesday arrested three of 12 men that security services detained Sunday and accused of being Russian members of Islamic State who were planning a bomb attack on Moscow’s transport system. One of the men was shown on state television confessing to taking part in the plot, which security services say they foiled late on Sunday.
“The terrorist act was planned to destabilize the authorities and stop the use of the army in Syria against IS,” an unnamed officer of Russia’s Federal Security Services, or FSB, said in court testimony, Interfax news agency reported.
“There is evidence of attempts by terrorists to leave the zones of military operations and, by using corridors for refugees, enter the countries of Europe and Asia, including Russia, which the aim to carry out terrorist attacks,” FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov said at a meeting of Russia’s National Antiterrorist Committee Thursday.
The Damascus shells hit Russia’s embassy territory as crowds gathered outside to support the Kremlin’s intervention in Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition-backed group that monitors the conflict via a network of activists on the ground. Syrian State News Agency SANA said thousands had gathered for the rally outside the embassy in the regime-controlled neighborhood of Mazraa.
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