PHOTO: Smoke rises from a Russian airstrike in northern Homs Province



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UPDATE 1830 GMT: Almost 80% of Russia’s declared bombing targets in Syria are in areas not held by the Islamic State, according to an analysis of Russian Defense Ministry data.

The majority of the 64 named locations are held by Syrian rebels. At most, 15 were in areas controlled by the Islamic State, said the Institute for the Study of War.

Russia’s air force has flown over 780 sorties against almost 800 targets in Syria since September 30.

A “senior Western diplomat” in New York said 85% of Russian air strikes had been against groups not affiliated with Islamic State.

A Russian “double tap” strike on Sarmin in Idlib Province on Tuesday hits civil defense workers responding to a first attack — at least 13 people were reportedly killed in the bombing, including a civil defense volunteer.

The Syrian-American Medical Society said one of its field clinics was hit, killing a physiotherapist and a nurse.

ORIGINAL ENTRY: Russia and the US signed an agreement on Tuesday setting rules for the bombing and surveillance of each country’s warplanes in Syria.

Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said the memorandum of understanding, established safety protocols for “professional airmanship at all times”, using specific communication frequencies and establishing communication on the ground to avoid accidental clashes.

Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said that the memorandum of “important practical significance” contains a “set of rules and restrictions aimed at preventing incidents between the Russian and U.S. aviation”.

Russia began its bombing campaign on September 30, mainly against Syrian rebels and supporting a five-front ground offensive by President Assad’s forces, Hezbollah fighters, and Iranian-supported units. There have also been some strikes on the Islamic State.

Since then, the US and Russian militaries have held a series of meetings and video conferences about the operations of their air forces. However, the warplanes of the two countries have continued to come within the American “safe zone” of 20 miles of each other, making visual contact. On two occasions, Russian jet fighters flew within 1,500 feet and 500 feet of American counterparts.

On Tuesday, the Russian Defense Ministry drove home the message by releasing video of an Su-30 fighter flying near a US Reaper drone:

“The Russians need to abide by these flight safety protocols that they’ve now agreed to, because we don’t want miscalculation and misunderstanding,” Pentagon spokesman Cook said. “There’s no need for them to have an encounter if everyone’s abiding by these rules.”

Mr. Antonov said more concrete steps needed to be worked out, including round-the-clock communications channels that would be established between the two relevant military commands and cooperation on issues like joint assistance in “critical situations.”

The Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Major General Igor Konashenkov, said an agreement was important because as 30 combat aircraft were over the same area at the same time: “There are military transport planes, combat aircraft and drones of various size, including attack drones.”

“This is Not Cooperation With Russia”

Cook emphasized that the agreement did not “constitute U.S. cooperation or support for Russia’s policy or actions in Syria”, saying, “We continue to believe that Russia’s strategy in Syria is counterproductive and their support for the Assad regime will only make Syria’s civil war worse.”

Russia’s Defense Ministry expressed disappointment that the agreement did not extend to specific measures to “deepen Russian-American military cooperation to counter the threat from international terrorism”, Moscow’s label for both the Syrian rebels and the Islamic State.

Turkish PM: Assad Should Remain in Moscow

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said on Wednesday that, having traveled to Russia to see President Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad should remain there.

Responding to questions from reporters, Davutoğlu said, “What can I say? If only he would stay longer in Moscow so the Syrian people can be at ease, or if only he could stay there permanently and a real transition period could begin.”

See Syria Developing: Assad Meets Putin in Moscow

In a shift of position to come into line with the US, Britain, and Germany, senior Turkish officials said on Tuesday that Assad could remain in power for up to six months during a political transition.

Russia, Turkey, the US, and Saudi Arabia are reportedly meeting on Friday to discuss the possibility of a high-level meeting accepting the Syrian President’s short-term rule while pursuing the transition. Saudi Arabia blocked a similar Russian-Iranian proposal in mid-August.

Despite the concession, Davutoğlu said, “We think the Syrian government has no legitimacy left and our thoughts on this subject have not changed …,There must be a transition in Syria which secures Assad’s departure.”

Rebels: We Can Use Night-Time Anti-Tank Missiles

Having destroyed dozens of regime armored vehicles since the regime-Russian offensive began on October 7, rebels say they can now use anti-tank missiles at night.

The rebel coalition Jaish al-Fateh said that several vehicles have been hit at night, including attacks on Tuesday in the al-Ghab Plain in Hama Province.

The Russian-made ATGMs have infrared and are easier to carry, as they are lighter than other anti-armor missiles.

Footage of the use of the ATGMs has been posted.

Rebels: “Attacks by Iran-Made Kamikaze Drones”

Rebels say opposition bases in northwest Syria have been attacked by Iranian-made explosive-laden drones.

An Ahrar al-Sham commander said, “Kamikaze drones thought to be Iranian were used [on Monday to strike] Syrian opposition military bases in rural Idlib, causing extensive material damage at the targeted location.”

Hassan Abu Hamid claimed five unmanned aerial vehicles aimed at one Ahrar al-Sham base in Ma’ar Shimmareen, near the city of Ma’arat Nu’man. He said one civilian was killed.

In September 2013, the commander of Iran’s ground forces, General Ahmad Reza Pourdastan, told reporters that the Islamic Republic had produced a drone, the Raad-85, that is “like a mobile bomb, and is capable of destroying fixed and mobile targets”. Just over a year later, the “suicide drone” was deployed for the first time during an exercise near the Strait of Hormuz.

3 More Iranian Troops Killed

The deaths of three more Iranian troops in Syria have been confirmed.

The dead soldiers are Revolutionary Guards member Mehdi Alidoust and Basiji paramilitary Majid Sanaei and Mehdi Karami.

Since October 8, four Iranian commanders — including the overall commander in Syria, General Hossein Hamedani — and several troops have been killed amid the regime-Russian-Iranian offensive against rebels throughout the west of the country.

Canada Withdrawing Warplanes from US-Led Coalition Against Islamic State

Canada’s newly-elected Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, has told Barack Obama that Canadian fighter jets will withdraw from the US-led coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Trudeau said that Canada remains “a strong member of the coalition against ISIL”, but he made clear to Obama “the commitments I have made around ending the combat mission.”

Trudeau, who won a resounding victory over current Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Tuesday, gave no timeline for the withdrawal.

Last year, Canada deployed CF-18 fighter jets to the region at least until March 2016, as well as about 70 special forces troops to train Kurds in northern Iraq.

Moscow Denies Claim of 3 Russians Killed Inside Syria

The Russian Embassy in Damascus has denied media reports of the deaths of three Russian troops in Syria:

We have no information on the alleged “death of three Russians” or “three Russian servicemen” in Syria, which was reported by the Reuters agency.

This very much looks like a regular information injection. The more so as the origin of these data was a London center for human rights, which in turn cites certain “sources of its own”.

Reuters cited a “senior pro-[Syrian] Goverment military source” on Tuesday for the claim that the Russians, deployed alongside regime forces, when a shell hit their position in Latakia Province in western Syria.

The source said at least 20 Russians were at the post in the Nabi Younis area when the shell struck. He said several were injured.