Russia has stepped up its criticism of the US military presence alongside rebels in eastern Syria, amid the possibility of a confrontation between pro-Assad forces and the Free Syrian Army.

The Russian Defense Ministry put out the provocative claim on Thursday that the US may attack the pro-Assad troops, which including Hezbollah and Iranian-led Iraqi militia, with the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System brought in to help protect the Tanf base near the Iraqi and Jordanian borders.

The Free Syrian base also includes US special forces training and assisting rebels in the fight against the Islamic State. It stands in the way of any pro-Assad push linking up with Iranian-supported militias in neighboring Iraq.

On three occasions since mid-May, the US has carried out airstrikes against pro-Assad forces trying to establish positions inside a 55-km (34-mile) exclusion zone around the base. The attacks, the first by the Americans against the ground units of the regime and its allies, have caused casualties and damaged an armored vehicle and engineering trucks.

Despite the defensive positioning of the HIMARS system, the Russian Defense Ministry maintained:

The range of the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System is not enough to support the US-backed units of the Syrian Democratic Forces fighting against the Islamic State terror group in Raqqa. At the same time, the US-led anti-terrorist coalition has several times attacked the Syrian government forces near the Jordanian border, so it can be assumed that such attacks will continue, but this time involving the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems.

The Defense Ministry also repeated its line that the American presence violated Syrian sovereignty, insisting, “The deployment of any foreign weapons to Syria’s territory should be agreed with the country’s government.”

Russia and the US have discussed establishment of a “de-confliction zone” in southwest Syria along the borders with Lebanon and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, but it is unclear if the two militaries have had a similar meeting over the zone around Tanf.

The outlet of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Fars, has loudly heralded the build-up of Hezbollah and other foreign militia and echoed the Assad regime’s proclamation — unsupported so far — that forces have reached the Iraqi border.

While emphasizing the defensive measures around Tanf, the US military has enjoined the Free Syrian Army from attacking pro-Assad forces, saying rebels must concentrate on the Islamic State.

TOP PHOTO: A M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System with US Marine armored personnel carriers during an exercise (AFP)

Video: UN — For 1st Time in Conflict, Aid Blocked for 40+ Days

The head of UN humanitarian operations in Syria, Jan Egeland, explains that UN aid operations have been blocked for more than 40 days, the longest denial since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011.

Local sources and activists says the UN figure of 600,000 people — the large majority of them besieged by pro-Assad forces — is a very conservative estimate.

Video: Growing Mushrooms to Cope with Siege Near Damascus

Pro-opposition Orient News reports on the efforts of agricultural engineers to grow mushrooms in East Ghouta near Damascus to cope with regime sieges.

An estimated 400,000 people are in the opposition areas which have been besieged and bombarded for five years.

Since spring 2016, pro-Assad forces have taken much of the East Ghouta area. Last month the attacks forced the capitulation of the suburbs of Barzeh and Qaboun.Syria Daily, May 8: Forced Removal Deal for Damascus Suburb Barzeh

Russia: We May Have Killed ISIS Leader al-Baghdadi, Top Officials

The Russian Defense Ministry said on Friday that it is checking information that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi and other top officials were killed by a May 28 airstrike in northern Syria.

The Ministry said Su-34 warplanes and an Su-35 multi-role fighter jet carried out airstrikes near the ISIS’s central position in the city of Raqqa, targeting a meeting where al-Baghdadi was reportedly present. The discussion was supposedly to plan “routes for the exit of militants from Raqqa” as the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces launched a final offensive on the city.

Others reportedly killed in the strike include ISIS’s Emir of Raqqa, the emir controlling much of the remaining ISIS-held territory in Raqqa Province, and the group’s head of security.

The US-led coalition said through spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon, “We cannot confirm these reports at this time.”