U.S., allies demand Russia halt Syria strikes outside IS areas

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Aftermath of Russia's Syria Strikes

Russia bombed Syria for a third day on Friday, mainly hitting areas held by rival insurgent groups rather than the Islamic State fighters it said it was targeting and drawing an increasingly angry response from the West.

The U.S.-led coalition that is waging its own air war against Islamic State called on the Russians to halt strikes on targets other than Islamic State.

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"We call on the Russian Federation to immediately cease its attacks on the Syrian opposition and civilians and to focus its efforts on fighting ISIL," said the coalition, which includes the United States, major European powers, Arab states and Turkey.

"We express our deep concern with regard to the Russian military build-up in Syria and especially the attacks by the Russian Air Force on Hama, Homs and Idlib since yesterday which led to civilian casualties and did not target Daesh," it said.

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U.S., allies demand Russia halt Syria strikes outside IS areas
This photo made from the footage taken from Russian Defense Ministry official web site Friday, Nov. 6, 2015, shows a target hit during a Russian air raid in Syria. Russia has been carrying out airstrikes on Islamic State fighters in Syria since the end of September at the request of President Bashar Assad, Russia's long-term ally. (AP Photo/ Russian Defense Ministry Press Service)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - NOVEMBER 03: A Syrian man runs past the rubble of a building destroyed in the Russian airstrikes on the opposition-controlled Mashhad neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria on November 03, 2015. (Photo by Beha el Halebi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - NOVEMBER 03: Syrians search for survivors in the rubble of buildings following the Russian airstrikes on the opposition-controlled Mashhad neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria on November 03, 2015. (Photo by Ibrahim Ebu Leys/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - NOVEMBER 03: Syrians evacuate people from damaged buildings following the Russian airstrikes on the opposition-controlled Mashhad neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria on November 03, 2015. (Photo by Ibrahim Ebu Leys/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - NOVEMBER 03: Syrians evacuate people from damaged buildings following the Russian airstrikes on the opposition-controlled Mashhad neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria on November 03, 2015. (Photo by Ibrahim Ebu Leys/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - OCTOBER 17: Smoke rises from an opposition-controlled residential area in Aleppo, Syria following the Russian airstrikes on October 17, 2015. (Photo by Beha El-Halebi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
In this photo made from the footage taken from Russian Defense Ministry official web site on Friday, Oct. 2, 2015 a bomb explosion is seen in Syria. Pentagon officials urged the Russian military on Thursday to focus its airstrikes in Syria on Islamic State fighters rather than opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad, U.S. administration officials said. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
In this photo made from the footage taken from Russian Defense Ministry official web site, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015, a Russian navy ship launches cruise missileS in the Caspian Sea. Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said four Russian navy ships in the Caspian launched 26 cruise missiles at Islamic State targets in Syria.(Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
In this photo made from the footage taken from Russian Defense Ministry official web site, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015, a Russian navy ship launches a cruise missile in the Caspian Sea. Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said four Russian navy ships in the Caspian launched 26 cruise missiles at Islamic State targets in Syria.(Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
In this photo made from the footage taken from Russian Defense Ministry official web site, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015, a Russian navy ship launches a cruise missile in the Caspian Sea. Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said four Russian navy ships in the Caspian launched 26 cruise missiles at Islamic State targets in Syria.(Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
In this photo made from the footage taken from Russian Defense Ministry official web site, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015, a Russian navy ship launches a cruise missile in the Caspian Sea. Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said four Russian navy ships in the Caspian launched 26 cruise missiles at Islamic State targets in Syria.(Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
In this photo made from the footage taken from Russian Defense Ministry official web site, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015, a Russian navy ship launches a cruise missile in the Caspian Sea. Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said four Russian navy ships in the Caspian launched 26 cruise missiles at Islamic State targets in Syria. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
In this image made from video provided by Homs Media Centre, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, smoke rises after airstrikes by military jets in Talbiseh of the Homs province, western Syria, Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015. Russian military jets carried out airstrikes in Syria for the first time on Wednesday, targeting what Moscow said were Islamic State positions. U.S. officials and others cast doubt on that claim, saying the Russians appeared to be attacking opposition groups fighting Syrian government forces. (Homs Media Centre via AP)
This image taken in Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015 posted on the Twitter account of Syria Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, a volunteer search and rescue group, shows the aftermath of an airstrike in Talbiseh, Syria. Russia on Wednesday carried out its first airstrikes in Syria in what President Vladimir Putin called a pre-emptive strike against the militants. Khaled Khoja, head of the Syrian National Council opposition group, said at the U.N. that Russian airstrikes in four areas, including Talbiseh, killed dozens of civilians, with children among the dead. (Syria Civil Defence via AP)
In this photo made from the footage taken from Russian Defense Ministry official web site on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015 a bomb explosion is seen in Syria. Reacting to criticism that it is targeting opponents of the Syrian government, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin admitted on Thursday that Russia's airstrikes in Syria are targeting not only Islamic State militants but also other groups. (AP Photo/ Russian Defense Ministry Press Service)
In this photo made from the footage taken from Russian Defense Ministry official web site on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015 a bomb explosion is seen in Syria. Reacting to criticism that it is targeting opponents of the Syrian government, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin admitted on Thursday that Russia's airstrikes in Syria are targeting not only Islamic State militants but also other groups. (AP Photo/ Russian Defense Ministry Press Service)
In this photo made from the footage taken from Russian Defense Ministry official web site on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015 a bomb explosion is seen in Syria. Reacting to criticism that it is targeting opponents of the Syrian government, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin admitted on Thursday that Russia's airstrikes in Syria are targeting not only Islamic State militants but also other groups. (AP Photo/ Russian Defense Ministry Press Service)
This image taken in Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015 posted on the Twitter account of Syria Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, a volunteer search and rescue group, shows the aftermath of an airstrike in Talbiseh, Syria. Russia on Wednesday carried out its first airstrikes in Syria in what President Vladimir Putin called a pre-emptive strike against the militants. Khaled Khoja, head of the Syrian National Council opposition group, said at the U.N. that Russian airstrikes in four areas, including Talbiseh, killed dozens of civilians, with children among the dead. (Syria Civil Defence via AP)
This image taken in Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015 posted on the Twitter account of Syria Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, a volunteer search and rescue group, shows the aftermath of an airstrike in Talbiseh, Syria. Russia on Wednesday carried out its first airstrikes in Syria in what President Vladimir Putin called a pre-emptive strike against the militants. Khaled Khoja, head of the Syrian National Council opposition group, said at the U.N. that Russian airstrikes in four areas, including Talbiseh, killed dozens of civilians, with children among the dead. (Syria Civil Defence via AP)
In this photo made from the footage taken from Russian Defense Ministry official web site on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015 a bomb explosion is seen in Syria. Reacting to criticism that it is targeting opponents of the Syrian government, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin admitted on Thursday that Russia's airstrikes in Syria are targeting not only Islamic State militants but also other groups. (AP Photo/ Russian Defense Ministry Press Service)
In this photo made from the footage taken from Russian Defense Ministry official web site on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015 a bomb explosion is seen in Syria. Reacting to criticism that it is targeting opponents of the Syrian government, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin admitted on Thursday that Russia's airstrikes in Syria are targeting not only Islamic State militants but also other groups. (AP Photo/ Russian Defense Ministry Press Service)
In this photo made from footage taken from Russian Defense Ministry official website on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015, a bomb explosion is seen in Syria. Reacting to criticism that it is targeting opponents of the Syrian government, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin admitted on Thursday that Russia's airstrikes in Syria are targeting not only Islamic State militants but also other groups. (AP Photo/Russian Defense Ministry Press Service)
In this photo made from the footage taken from Russian Defense Ministry official web site on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015 a bomb explosion is seen in Syria. Reacting to criticism that it is targeting opponents of the Syrian government, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin admitted on Thursday that Russia's airstrikes in Syria are targeting not only Islamic State militants but also other groups. (AP Photo/ Russian Defense Ministry Press Service)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - SEPTEMBER 30: Russian President Vladimir Putin gives a speech during a weekly meeting with ministers of the Russian Government in Novo-Ogaryovo State Residence September 30, 2015 outside Moscow, Russia. Vladimir Putin has received permission from Parliament for Russian military forces to launch airstrikes in Syria, two days after the Russian leader spoke to the UN and called for an international coalition against terrorism to fight Islamic State (ISIS). (Photo by Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, rear center, holds a meeting with senior government officials at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015. Russian military jets carried out airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Syria on Wednesday for the first time, after President Vladimir Putin received parliamentary approval to send Russian troops to Syria. (Alexei Nikolsky/RIA Novosti, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - SEPTEMBER 30: Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives to a weekly meeting with ministers of the Russian Government in Novo-Ogaryovo State Residence September 30, 2015 outside Moscow, Russia. Vladimir Putin has received permission from Parliament for Russian military forces to launch airstrikes in Syria, two days after the Russian leader spoke to the UN and called for an international coalition against terrorism to fight Islamic State (ISIS). (Photo by Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images)
A picture taken on September 30, 2015 shows damaged buildings and a minaret in the central Syrian town of Talbisseh in the Homs province. Russian warplanes carried out air strikes in three Syrian provinces, including Homs, along with regime aircraft on September 30, according to a Syrian security source. Earlier in the day, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, reported at least 27 civilians had been killed in air strikes in the Homs province, adding that the strikes hit Rastan, Talbisseh and Zaafarani. The other Syrian security source said the Russian strikes had hit Rastan and Talbisseh in the province of Homs. AFP PHOTO / MAHMOUD TAHA (Photo credit should read MAHMOUD TAHA/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on September 30, 2015 shows a general view of deserted streets and damaged buildings in the central Syrian town of Talbisseh in the Homs province. Russia confirmed on Septemer 30 that it carried out its first airstrike in Syria, near the city of Homs, marking the formal start of Moscow's military intervention in the 4.5-year-old conflict. AFP PHOTO / MAHMOUD TAHA (Photo credit should read MAHMOUD TAHA/AFP/Getty Images)
IDLIB, SYRIA - OCTOBER 01: A damaged vehicle is seen at the site of the alleged Russian airstrikes targeting the training camp of Suqour al-Jabal Brigades in Kafr Nabl town of Idlib, Syria on October 01, 2015. (Photo by Firas Khalife/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
IDLIB, SYRIA - OCTOBER 01: The training camp of Suqour al-Jabal Brigades is destroyed in the alleged Russian airstrikes in Kafr Nabl town of Idlib, Syria on October 01, 2015. (Photo by Firas Khalife/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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ISIL and Daesh are both acronyms for Islamic State, also known as ISIS, which has set up a caliphate across a swathe of eastern Syria and northern Iraq.

In Syria, the group is one of many fighting against Russia's ally, President Bashar al-Assad. Washington and its Western and regional allies say Russia is using it as a pretext to bomb other groups that oppose Assad. Some of these groups have received training and weapons from Assad's foreign enemies, including the United States.

President Vladimir Putin held frosty talks with France's Francois Hollande in Paris, Putin's first meeting with a Western leader since launching the strikes two days after he gave an address to the United Nations making the case to back Assad.

PRAYERS CANCELED

Friday prayers were canceled in insurgent-held areas of Homs province that were hit by Russian warplanes this week, with residents concerned that mosques could be targeted, said one person from the area.

"The streets are almost completely empty and there is an unannounced curfew," said the resident, speaking from the town of Rastan which was hit in the first day of Russian air strikes.

Warplanes were seen flying high above the area, which is held by anti-Assad rebels but has no significant presence of Islamic State fighters.

Islamic State also canceled prayers in areas it controls, according to activists from its de facto capital Raqqa.

A Russian air strike on Thursday destroyed a mosque in the town of Jisr al-Shughour, captured from government forces by an alliance of Islamist insurgents earlier this year, activists said.

The United Nations said it had been forced to suspend planned humanitarian operations in parts of Syria due to the fighting.

Moscow said on Friday its latest strikes had hit 12 Islamic State targets, but most of the areas it described were in western and northern parts of the country, while Islamic State is mostly present in the east.

The Russian Defence Ministry said its Sukhoi-34, Sukhoi-24M and Sukhoi-25 warplanes had flown 18 sorties hitting targets that included a command post and a communications center in the province of Aleppo, a militant field camp in Idlib and a command post in Hama.

A Defence Ministry official, Igor Konashenkov, later told Russian news agencies the Air Force had conducted 14 flights in Syria on Friday and made six strikes against Islamic State targets. The ministry was not immediately available to comment on the apparent discrepancy with the earlier figures.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict with a network of sources on the ground, said there was no Islamic State presence at any of those areas.

Russia has however also struck Islamic State areas in a small number of other attacks further east. The Observatory said 12 Islamic State fighters were killed near Raqqa on Thursday, and planes believed to be Russian had also struck the Islamic State-held city of Qarytayn.

Russia has said it is using its most advanced plane, the Sukhoi-34, near Raqqa, the area where it is most likely to encounter U.S. and coalition aircraft targeting Islamic State.

The U.S.-led coalition said it conducted 28 air strikes on Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq on Thursday.

FROSTY HANDSHAKES

Hollande and Putin both looked stern at their talks in Paris, exchanging terse handshakes for the cameras.

Hollande laid out France's conditions for supporting Russian intervention, which include a halt to strikes on groups other than Islamic State and al Qaeda, protections for civilians and a commitment to a political transition that would remove Assad.

"What I told President Putin was that the strikes should concern Daesh and only Daesh. On that basis we have to hold everyone to their responsibilities," Hollande told reporters after the talks on Syria that lasted more than an hour.

Putin's decision to launch strikes on Syria marks a dramatic escalation of foreign involvement in a four-year-old civil war in which every major country in the region has a stake.

Lebanese sources have told Reuters that hundreds of Iranian troops have also arrived in recent days in Syria to participate in a major ground offensive alongside government troops and their Lebanese and Iraqi Shi'ite militia allies.

Syria's foreign minister said the U.S.-led coalition's campaign against Islamic State was bound to fail.

"Air strikes are useless unless they are conducted in cooperation with the Syrian army, the only force in Syria that is combating terrorism," Walid al-Moualem said in a speech to United Nations General Assembly in New York.

COMMON ENEMY, DIFFERENT FRIENDS

Western countries and Russia say they have a common enemy in Islamic State. But they also have very different friends and opposing views of how to resolve a war that has killed at least 250,000 people and driven more than 10 million from their homes.

Washington and its allies oppose both Islamic State and Assad, blaming him for attacks on civilians that have radicalized the opposition and insisting that he has no place in a post-war settlement.

Russia says Assad's government should be the centerpiece of international efforts to fight militants.

The campaign is the first time Moscow has sent forces into combat beyond the frontiers of the former Soviet Union since the disastrous Afghanistan campaign of the 1980s, a bold move by Putin to extend Russia's influence beyond its neighborhood.

It comes at a low point in Russia's relations with the West, a year after the United States and EU imposed financial sanctions on Moscow for annexing territory from Ukraine.

Speaking in Paris on Friday evening after meeting Putin and Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the West would not make concessions to Russia over Ukraine in return for Moscow's support for a political settlement in Syria.

"These issues have nothing to do with each other," she said, referring to the twin crises pitting Russia against the West.

Assad and his father before him were Moscow's close allies in the Middle East since the Cold War, and Russia maintains its only Mediterranean naval base on the Syrian coast.

Moscow's intervention comes at a time when insurgents had been scoring major battlefield gains against government forces after years of stalemate in the war.

(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Pineau in Paris, Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow, David Dolan in Istanbul and Orhan Coskun in Ankara; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Giles Elgood and Gareth Jones)

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