MOSCOW / AFP
Russiaâ€™s defence ministry on Thursday accused the United States of bombing the Syrian city of Aleppo after the Pentagon said Moscowâ€™s air strikes had destroyed two hospitals in the city.
Moscow furiously denied the US claim, charging in return that Washington had sent ground-attack planes to bombard Aleppo, an allegation the US said was a â€œfabricationâ€.
â€œJust before 2 pm Moscow time (1100 GMT on Wednesday), two US Air Force A-10s flew into Syrian airspace from Turkish territory,â€ defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.
After reaching Aleppo by the most direct route, the US planes â€œconducted strikes against targets in the city,â€ Konashenkov claimed.
Spokesman for the US-led coalition Colonel Steve Warren in Baghdad rejected this. â€œThere were no Coalition airstrikes in or near Aleppo on Wednesday,â€ he said in an emailed statement.
â€œAny claim that the coalition had aircraft in the area is a fabrication.â€
The Pentagon on Wednesday said that Aleppoâ€™s two main hospitals had been destroyed by Russian and Syrian government attacks this month in the Russian-backed regime offensive, warning of an â€œincreasingly direâ€ situation in the city.
Russiaâ€™s defence ministry said on Thursday that its air force had hit 1,888 â€œterrorist targetsâ€ in eight regions including Aleppo, Latakia, Hama and Homs provinces over the past week.
However, the defence ministry spokesman insisted that the air forceâ€™s closest bombing target to Aleppo on Wednesday was more than 20 kilometres (12 miles) outside the city.
The ministry vehemently denied accusations that civilians had been targeted in the strikes, saying that â€œRussian aviation and Syrian government forces will never launch strikes on the civilian population.â€
Russia said Thursday it was ready to discuss the possibility of a ceasefire in Syria as foreign ministers gathered in Munich in a bid to restart peace talks.
â€œWe are ready to discuss the modalities of a ceasefire,â€ deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov told journalists in Moscow, quoted by TASS state news agency. â€œThat is what we will talk about in Munich.â€
US Secretary of State John Kerry warned earlier this week that Russiaâ€™s bombing of opposition targets could further derail diplomatic efforts to end Syriaâ€™s brutal civil war.
Kerry was set to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Munich to host talks with a 17-nation contact group designed to get the talks back on track.
But US frustration with Russiaâ€™s bombing in support of Syrian President Bashar Al Assadâ€™s regime is growing, as fears mount that the opposition will refuse to join UN-led peace talks while their cities are under fire.
Russia launched a bombing campaign in the war-torn country last year at Assadâ€™s request, saying strikes are aimed against the IS group and other extremists.
But the West has accused Moscow of targeting more moderate groups that oppose Assadâ€™s regime.
International talks to end the five-year civil war that has killed more than 260,000 people broke down earlier this month amid accusations from the West and Syrian regime opponents that Russiaâ€™s air strikes in Aleppo were targeting opposition groups and civilians.
The talks were temporarily suspended until February 25, but Russian deputy foreign minister Gatilov said Thursday that they could â€œpossibly start earlier.â€