13 Oct 2015

Syria: Russian embassy shelling was ‘terrorist act’

Russia says the shelling of its embassy in the Syrian capital was an “act of terrorism” designed to intimidate “supporters of the fight against terrorism”.

These were Russian Foreign Minister Serfei Lavrov’s words following an attack in Damascus during a demonstration in support of Russian military involvement in Syria.

There were no immediate reports of casualties, but the Russian embassy has been targeted before by rebel groups opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Russia is carrying out air strikes in Syria, ostensibly targeting Islamic State (IS), but the US and Britain accuse it of putting more effort into bolstering the Assad regime, by bombing its other enemies, than hitting IS. Most Russian air strikes have taken place in areas held by rebel groups opposed to Assad, not IS.

‘Fight against terrorism’

In response to fears about Russian involvement in Syria, President Vladimir Putin said Moscow was “not striving for any kind of leadership over Syria”.

He added: “We aim at making a contribution in the fight against terrorism, which is dangerous for the United States, for Russia and for the European countries, and for the whole world, without exaggeration.”

Referring to US air drops of small arms to Syrian rebels on Sunday, President Putin said weapons supplied to the western-backed, anti-Assad Free Syrian Army had fallen into the hands of IS in the past and could do so again.

The air drop was a response to Russia’s decision, on 30 September, to begin its air campaign in Syria. This has alarmed the US-led coalition, which is carrying out its own air strikes against IS in Syria and Iraq.

‘Horrors of Afghanistan’

Abu Mohamad al-Golani, head of the the Nusra Front, which is affiliated to al-Qaeda, criticised Russia’s involvement, accusing it of starting a new Christian crusade and saying it “will make the Russians forget the horrors of what they faced in Afghanistan”. He called on insurgents to escalate attacks on Assad’s strongholds.

Amnesty International has accused Kurdish forces fighting in northern Syria of war crimes.

Amnesty criticised the YPG, which has had success on the ground against IS while co-operating with the US, for forcibly displacing non-Kurds and demolishing homes. The YPG said it was wrong.

The Syrian civil war has claimed 250,000 lives and caused a refugee crisis in neighbouring countries and Europe.