LIVE UPDATES: Two shells struck the Russian embassy in Damascus this morning as a rally in support of Russia’s military intervention was under way.
The previous post in our Putin in Syria column can be found here.
AFP reports that Jabhat al-Nusra (JaN), a Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate that is fighting both the Assad regime and ISIS, has called for jihadists to wage war on Russia in response to Russian air strikes.
Abu Mohamed al-Jolani, head of Syria’s Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front, urged jihadists in the Caucasus to target Russians because of Moscow’s air campaign.
“If the Russian army kills the people of Syria, then kill their people. And if they kill our soldiers, then kill their soldiers. An eye for an eye,” Jolani said in an audio recording released late Monday.
He pledged that Moscow’s air war, which began on September 30, would have dire consequences.
“The war in Syria will make the Russians forget the horrors that they found in Afghanistan,” Jolani said, adding: “They will be shattered, with God’s permission, on Syria’s doorstep.”
Jolani also offered a €3 million reward for anyone who killed Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and €2 million for Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah.
— Pierre Vaux
The Russian Ministry of Defence claims that their jets have conducted 88 sorties on 86 targets in Syria over the last day.
Major General Igor Konashenkov told reporters today that Sukhoi Su-24 and Su-25 bombers had struck “terrorist infrastructure positions in the Raqqa, Hama, Idlib, Latakia and Aleppo regions.”
A post on the MOD Facebook page stated that all of the targets were “ISIS facilities.” As has been reported numerous times, the vast majority of the areas targeted by the Russian Air Force are not controlled by ISIS but opposition groups who are fighting both ISIS and the Assad regime.
Claimed targets in ISIS-controlled areas included a field HQ and ammunition depot in al-Bab, east of Aleppo, and others near Raqqa.
One video released by the MOD purportedly shows an air strike on an ammunition and weapons store near Jubb al-Ahmar, on the western edge of the Ghab plain:
ISIS has no presence in this area. Instead, a combination of rebel groups, including fighters from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Jaish al-Fatah are fighting regime forces in the hills dividing the Hama and Latakia provinces.
This video, uploaded today by the First Coastal Division of the FSA, purportedly shows rebels defending Jubb al-Ahmar from regime attack:
Another video shows an attack on Salma, where we reported on FSA operations yesterday:
According to the SMART news agency, which uploaded the video, Russian jets conducted four air raids at 6:45 this morning, following others last night. One child was reportedly injured as a result of the strikes, which also struck a house in the village.
This video purportedly shows a Russian air strike on al-Bara, around 8 kilometres east of Ayn al-Arus:
The aircraft appears to be a Su-34.
To the south-east, the Russian MOD claimed air strikes near al-Lataminah, at the centre of a salient defended by FSA forces battling a regime assault.
According to the Ministry, a Su-34 bomber struck an underground ammunition store outside the rebel-held town.
To the north, there were extensive strikes on rebel-held positions to the west of Aleppo, hitting Hayan and Darat Izza.
Two shells have struck the Russian embassy in Damascus this morning.
An Associated Press reporter was outside the embassy when the first shell slammed into the compound in central Damascus and smoke billowed from inside. As people started running away, another shell hit the area.
A rally in support of Russia’s military intervention was under way outside the embassy. According to AFP, around 300 people were gathering in front of the compound.
There was widespread panic, but it was not immediately clear if anyone had been wounded or killed.
The demonstrators had been waving Russian flags and holding up large photographs of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said the rockets were fired from the eastern edges of the capital, where Islamist rebels are entrenched.
Russian state media were filming the rally when the shells struck:
An embassy employee told the Russian state-owned RIA Novosti news agency that two shells had fallen on the grounds of the embassy.
There are conflicting reports of casualties.
The Interpreter translates:
“There are no casualties amongst the embassy staff. It did cause material damage,” he said.
In addition, as an eyewitness told RIA Novosti, several shells exploded next to the area in which a rally in support of the Russian Federation’s operations in Syria was being held.
“Shells fell on the area where a peaceful demonstration in support of Russia’s actions in Syria is taking place. One at the al-Barada sports club, the other in al-Adawi, there are wounded. The grounds where the shells exploded has been closed off,” said the eyewitness.
Meanwhile, a police source said that, according to preliminary reports, there are no casualties amongst the participants in the rally.
Reports vary in their description of the weapons used. According to AFP, rockets were used in the attack, while RIA Novosti claims mortars.
This is not the first time the embassy has been targeted.
On September 21, just nine days before it began its air war in Syria, Moscow demanded “concrete action” after a shell hit the embassy’s compound in Damascus.
In May, one person was killed by mortar rounds that landed nearby. Three were hurt when mortar rounds landed inside the compound in April.
— Pierre Vaux