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U.S.-led coalition air strikes killed dozens of Syrian soldiers on Saturday, Russia and a monitoring group said, putting a U.S.-Russian brokered ceasefire in jeopardy and prompting an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting.
The United States military said the coalition stopped the attacks against what it had believed to be Islamic State positions in northeast Syria after Russia informed it that Syrian military personnel and vehicles may have been hit.
A U.S. military official said he was "pretty sure" targets mistakenly hit in the strikes were Syrian forces.
Russia called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council after the incident, and diplomats said the 15-member body was due to meet behind closed doors at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Moscow cited the strikes, which allowed Islamic State fighters to briefly overrun a Syrian army position near Deir al-Zor airport, as evidence that the United States was helping the jihadist militants.
"We are reaching a really terrifying conclusion for the whole world: That the White House is defending Islamic State. Now there can be no doubts about that," the RIA Novosti news agency quoted Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as saying.
She said the strikes threatened to undermine the ceasefire in Syria brokered by Russia, which has been aiding Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the civil war, and the United States, which has backed some rebel groups.
The Russian Defence Ministry said U.S. jets had killed more than 60 Syrian soldiers in four air strikes by two F-16s and two A-10s coming from the direction of Iraq.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitoring group with contacts across Syria, cited a military source at Deir al-Zor airport as saying at least 80 Syrian soldiers had been killed.
Syria's army said the U.S.-led strikes, which took place at around 5 p.m. local time (10.00 a.m. ET) were "conclusive evidence" of U.S. support for Islamic State, calling them "dangerous and blatant aggression".
The incident also threatens to undermine proposed joint targeting by the United States and Russia of Islamic State and some other jihadist groups across Syria.
Russia demands ‘full and detailed explanation’ from US after over 60 Syrian army troops killed in coalition attack
The UN Security Council will hold urgent consultations on Saturday after US-led coalition air strikes hit Syrian military positions, diplomats said.
Russia requested the meeting, which is set to take place from 7:30 pm (2330 GMT).
“These strikes endanger everything that has been done so far by the international community” to reach peace in Syria, the Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman said.
Zakharova accused the United States of being “simply incapable of honoring its commitment” to distinguish between jihadists and Syrian mainstream rebels in the implementation of a ceasefire in force since Monday.
Earlier, a Russian army statement said “warplanes from the international anti-jihadist coalition carried out four air strikes today against Syrian forces surrounded by the Islamic State group in the Deir Ezzor air base.”
Air strikes blamed by Moscow and Damascus on the US-led coalition hit a Syrian army position in the east on Saturday, killing more than 60 soldiers, the Russian army said.
The situation in Syria is deteriorating, the Russian military said earlier, adding that the United States would be responsible if the current ceasefire breaks down.
“Warplanes from the international anti-jihadist coalition carried out four air strikes today against Syrian forces surrounded by the Islamic State group in the Deir Ezzor air base,” a Russian army statement said.
“Sixty-two Syrian soldiers were killed and a hundred others were injured in these strikes.”
American officials said the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria may have hit Syrian military positions.
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Timing & other aspects of US strike on Syrian army suggest intentional provocation
The US’ sudden attempt to “help” the Syrian army fighting ISIS in the eastern city of Deir ez-Zor, which resulted in a strike that killed and injured dozens of soldiers, does not look like an honest mistake, Russia’s UN envoy told journalists at the UNSC meeting.
“It is highly suspicious that the United States chose to conduct this particular air strike at this time,” Russia’s ambassador Vitaly Churkin said.
Churkin questioned why the US suddenly chose to “help” the Syrian army defend Deir ez-Zor after all these years, recalling how American forces just observed terrorists’ movements and did “nothing when ISIS advanced on Palmyra.”
“It was quite significant and not accidental that it happened just two days before the Russian-American arrangements were supposed to come into full force,” Churkin added.
However, instead of discussing the issue, US ambassador Samantha Power immediately left the room to address the press and accuse Russia of hypocrisy.
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