Russia has accused the US of bombing Syrian army positions and warned the incident puts a “very big question mark” over the future of a precarious ceasefire agreed by Washington and Moscow.
The US acknowledged that an intended air strike against Isis positions could have hit Syrian soldiers in error and said it would carry out an investigation.
Russia’s military said it was told by the Syrian army that at least 62 soldiers were killed in the Deir ez-Zour air raid and more than 100 wounded.
But the US ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, described Russia’s call for an emergency closed-door security council meeting over the incident a “stunt” that was “uniquely cynical and hypocritical” as Russia had for years blocked UN punitive measures against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad for the barrel bombing of civilian populations in rebel-held cities.
“Since 2011, the Assad regime has been intentionally striking civilian targets with horrifying, predictable regularity … And yet in the face of none of these atrocities has Russia expressed outrage, nor has it demanded investigations, nor has it ever called for a Saturday night emergency consultation in the Security Council,” she said.
The Russian envoy to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, declared that in his decades as a diplomat he had “never seen such an extraordinary display of American heavy-handedness as we are witnessing today” after the meeting went ahead.
He said that if Power’s actions were any indication of Washington’s possible reaction then the cease-fire agreement is “in serious trouble” but expressed hope the US would convince Moscow it was serious about finding a political solution in Syria and fighting terrorism.
Churkin said the timing of the US airstrike was “frankly suspicious” as it came two days before the US and Russia were supposed under the ceasefire agreement to begin joint planning for air operations against Isis and the former Nusra front, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, deemed to be terrorist groups by both states.
“We are still gathering information at this time but we have been able to confirm that earlier today, the United States struck what we believe to be an ISIL target,” Power said, using an alternative acronym for the Islamic State.
“We halted the attack when we were informed by Russia that it was possible that we were striking Syrian regime military personnel and vehicles.”
Syria’s state news agency claimed on Sunday that troops have regained control of areas lost to Isis in the east of the country after US the airstrikes, killing dozens of the extremists “as a result of the American aircraft aggression.”