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US 'gravely concerned' as Russia bombs areas not controlled by Islamic State

It’s Moscow’s first engagement in a distant theatre of war since the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

Updated 9.30pm

Source: Минобороны России/YouTube

Footage of an Russian air strike, posted on YouTube by the country’s defence ministry.

RUSSIA LAUNCHED ITS first air-strikes in Syria today after President Vladimir Putin won parliamentary permission to use force abroad, the United States has said.

A US official said the strike was near the city of Homs in what is Moscow’s first engagement in a distant theatre of war since the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

Russia’s deepening engagement in Syria comes as Putin and US President Barack Obama push rival plans on ways to defeat the Islamic State group in Syria and on the future role of the country’s embattled leader Bashar al-Assad.

“They gave us a heads-up they were going to start striking in Syria,” a US defence official said.

“It was in the vicinity of Homs.”

United States defense secretary Ash Carter said that the airstrikes appear to have targeted areas that do not include Islamic State fighters, a development which Secretary of State John Kerry said would cause “grave concern”.

John Kerry John Kerry Source: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Kerry told the United Nations Security Council that the U.S. would not object to Russians hitting Islamic State or al-Qaida targets but airstrikes just to strengthen the hand of Syrian President Bashar Assad would be worrisome.

“It does appear they were in in areas where there probably were not ISIL forces,” Carter said of the Russian airstrikes, using an alternative acronym for Islamic State. He would not go into more detail.

The opposition Syrian National Coalition denounced what it called a “savage bombardment” which it said had cost civilian lives.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the raids hit Rastan, Talbisseh and Zaafarani in Homs, while the security source spoke only of Rastan and Talbisseh.

The Britain-based group reported five combatants and 27 civilians killed and many more wounded.

A military source also reported the strikes in Hama and Homs.

“We are trying to establish a toll in the strikes, but what is certain is that numerous terrorist leaders were killed in these attacks against IS,” he said.

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President Vladimir Putin had just hours earlier won permission from the upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, to deploy troops abroad.

He said the decision to launch  air strikes was taken after Assad asked Russia for military support.

Putin is seeking to muscle his way back onto the world stage after months of Western isolation following Russia’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine and support for a separatist insurgency in the east of the ex-Soviet country.

© AFP, 2015, contains reported by The Associated Press. Originally published 2.31pm.

Read: The Pope spent eight weeks in Ireland learning English

Read: Obama slams Russia and Iran for supporting ‘child-killing tyrant’ Assad


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