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Russia Launches New Airstrikes Against Syrian Rebels


A bomb is released from Russian Su-34 strike fighter in Syria, Oct. 9, 2015.
A bomb is released from Russian Su-34 strike fighter in Syria, Oct. 9, 2015.

Russia launched a new aerial bombardment of Syrian rebels Sunday, helping President Bashar al-Assad's government reclaim territory it had lost.

Moscow said most of the targets were in Tal Skik, a highland area of Idlib province that had been controlled by the rebels.

As it has been proclaiming, Russia said the targets belonged to Islamic State insurgents, but most of the positions it has targeted so far were actually held by other rebel groups fighting the Assad government.

In an interview with Russian state television, President Vladimir Putin defended Moscow's intervention in Syria. He said the objective is to stabilize the Damascus government and open the path for a political compromise.

But on CBS television's 60 Minutes Sunday, U.S. President Barack Obama said Russia's intervention into Syria is instead aimed at saving the Assad government.

"Syria was Russia's only ally in the region. And today, rather than being able to count on their support and maintain the base they had in Syria... Mr. Putin now is devoting his own troops, his own military, just to barely hold together by a thread his sole ally," said Obama.

Last week, the Pentagon scrapped its failed program to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels to fight Islamic State.

Obama told 60 Minutes he was skeptical from the very start that it would work. He said part of his strategy in Syria is to try different things. But he said as long as Assad stays in power, it is very difficult to get the moderate rebels to focus their attention on the extremists. ​

Russian-made cluster bombs

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch said Sunday a type of Russian-made cluster bomb has been used in northern Syria for the first time.

The New York-based group said the development "raises grave concerns" that Russia is either dropping the cluster bombs itself as part of its nearly two weeks of airstrikes in Syria or is providing them to the Syrian military.

"It's disturbing that yet another type of cluster munition is being used in Syria given the harm they cause to civilians for years to come," HRW Deputy Middle East Director Nadim Houry said. "Neither Russia nor Syria should use cluster munitions, and both should join the international ban without delay."

HRW based its report on photos and pictures taken near the village of Kaf Halab, about 15 kilometers southwest of Aleppo, that showed remnants of the munitions and mid-air explosions consistent with their use.