US: Russian airstrikes 'increase civilian deaths' in Syria

There has been a "marked and troubling" increase in reports of Syrian civilian casualties since the start of the Russian air campaign supporting the regime, according to the US State Department.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said several "non-governmental" groups had issued "extremely disturbing" reports claiming that Russian airstrikes had killed hundreds of civilians, including emergency workers, and had hit medical centres, schools and markets.

John Kerry has raised the issue with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov via phone-call, Mr Toner said.

Men carry an injured man on a stretcher at the entrance of a field hospital in the town of Dael, after what activists said were airstrikes carried out by the Russian air force. Credit: Reuters

Earlier this month, an Amnesty International report claimed that at least 200 Syrian civilians have been killed in Russian airstrikes since September.

And the British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said that the majority of Russian air force operations continue to target target Syrian opposition forces, not so-called Islamic State. A move Mr Hammond called "highly challenging."

November file photo: A site hit by what residents said were airstrikes carried out by Russia in Aleppo province, Syria. Credit: Reuters

Russian intervention into the increasingly chaotic Syrian civil war began in late September 2015, when President Vladimir Putin responded to a formal request from the Syrian regime for military help against rebels and jihadist groups.

Mr Putin claims that the campaign is to stabilise "the legitimate power in Syria" - referring to the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad.

In mid-November, Russia responded to Islamic State claims that it had downed a Metrojet airliner in Egypt by using Cold War-era strategic bombers against the jihadists.