The Latest: US aircraft rerouted over Syria, avoids Russians

AP News
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Posted: Oct 07, 2015 1:08 PM
The Latest: US aircraft rerouted over Syria, avoids Russians

BEIRUT (AP) — The latest developments after Syrian troops, emboldened by Russian airstrikes, launch a ground offensive against insurgents (all times local).

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7:05 p.m.

The Pentagon says at least one U.S. military aircraft changed its route over Syria recently to avoid coming dangerously close to Russian warplanes.

A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, said Wednesday that he could not provide details, including the number of times this has happened.

He says U.S. aircraft are still flying attack and other missions daily over Syria, but he acknowledged that the air operations have had to be adjusted since the Russians began flying.

Davis said this highlights the Pentagon's interest in talking further to Russian officials about ways to avoid accidents and potential unintended conflict in the skies over Syria. One round of talks was held Oct. 1. No second session has been scheduled for now.

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6:15 p.m.

Britain's U.N. ambassador says Russia's military actions in Syria are strengthening the Islamic State by strengthening Syrian President Bashar Assad and forcing much of Syria's Sunni population "into the arms" of the extremist group.

Matthew Rycroft told a group of reporters on Wednesday that "Russia's military action is a significant escalation of this crisis."

He says that while the Russians say they are attacking Islamic State extremists, anyone looking at a map of their strikes can see that most "are against what we consider the moderate opposition to Assad, the very people that we need to be part of the future of Syria."

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5 p.m.

France's president says comments from Russian President Vladimir Putin suggesting an alliance of Syrian government forces and the Free Syrian Army are incorrect.

Putin was in Paris on Friday for talks with French President Francois Hollande as well as the leaders of Germany and Ukraine. The Russian leader said the idea came from French President Francois Hollande.

But in a speech Wednesday before the European Parliament, Hollande appeared to indirectly contradict Putin.

Hollande said: "Know that it will not be possible to reunite the opposition — I am talking about the moderate opposition, the democratic opposition — with the executioner of the Syrian people."

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3:25 p.m.

In an apparent spillover from the fighting in Syria, Lebanon's state-run National News Agency says militants fired a shell at a Lebanese army position near the two countries' shared border, wounding five Lebanese soldiers.

NNA says the attack occurred near the northeastern Lebanese border town of Ras Baalbek. It says Lebanese troops retaliated for Wednesday's attack by shelling militant positions.

Clashes and shelling in areas along the Syrian-Lebanese border are not uncommon.

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2:55 p.m.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says French President Francois Hollande last week suggested that government forces in Syria form an alliance with the opposition's Free Syrian Army.

Putin was in Paris on Friday for talks with Hollande as well as the leaders of Germany and Ukraine.

Putin said in televised remarks Wednesday that he found Hollande's idea "interesting" but insisted Moscow still has too little information on the Free Syrian Army. He says "we still don't know where it is and who leads it."

But the Russian leader added that "since (the Free Syrian Army) is supposed to be the combat unit of the so-called healthy opposition, it would create good conditions for a political settlement in Syria if they could join forces against the common enemy, terrorists, the Islamic State, the Nusra Front and others."

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2:40 p.m.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu says Russia is using warships in the Caspian Sea to target the Islamic State group in Syria.

Russia last week began carrying out airstrikes in Syria in what it said was a pre-emptive operation against terrorism in the Middle East.

Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin in televised remarks that Russia on Wednesday morning carried out 26 missile strikes from four warships of its Caspian Sea flotilla. Shoigu insisted the operation destroyed all the targets and did not launch any strikes upon civilian areas.

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2:30 p.m.

A Syrian official says a ground offensive has been launched in central regions of the country amid intense shelling and Russian airstrikes.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said the operations are concentrated in the neighboring provinces of Hama and Idlib.

Activists and rebels say Syrian troops backed by Russian airstrikes battled insurgents in central Syria on Wednesday in the first major ground fighting since Moscow began launching air raids on militants last week.

The Russian airstrikes appear to have emboldened Syrian troops to launch a ground offensive after suffering a string of setbacks in northwestern Syria over the past few months.

The Islamic State group is not present in the areas where the fighting is underway.

— Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria.

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2:20 p.m.

A Syrian official says Syrian troops backed by Russian airstrikes have launched a ground offensive against insurgents in central Syria.