Moscow to West: are you fighting terrorists or Russia?

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By Alasdair Sandford  with Reuters
Moscow to West: are you fighting terrorists or Russia?

Russia has again turned on the West in the war of words over Syria.

It's time for our Western partners to determine whom they are fighting

Sergei Shoigu Russian Defence Minister

The defence minister told a meeting of military officials in Moscow that Western-backed rebels had been attacking civilians in Aleppo, even though he claimed Russian and Syrian air attacks had paused.

He said a resumption of peace talks had been delayed indefinitely as a result.

“This is how our partners understand their contribution to the fight against international terrorism in Syria. It’s time for our Western partners to determine whom they are fighting: terrorists or Russia. Maybe they forgot who killed innocent people in terrorist attacks in Belgium, France, Egypt, Iraq and other countries,” Sergei Shoigu said.

The defence minister also said Moscow had been surprised that Russian warships on their way to Syria had been denied access to Western ports, blaming pressure from the US and NATO.

Russia, which backs the Syrian government in the civil war, had sought permission for some ships to call at Spain’s North African enclave of Ceuta.

Later it withdrew its request as NATO allies put pressure on Madrid over concerns that the ships could be used to step up air attacks in Syria.

Shoigu said the refusal had not interrupted their journey.

Russia has been voted off the UN Human Rights Council after mounting allegations that its actions in Syria amount to war crimes.

The United Nations has suggested that all sides fighting over Aleppo may be committing war crimes through indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas.

“All parties in Aleppo are conducting hostilities that are resulting in large numbers of civilian casualties and creating an atmosphere of terror for those who continue to live in the city,” UN human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told a regular briefing in Geneva on Tuesday.

Speaking for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), she said that over the last weekend there had been reports of intensified shelling by armed opposition groups of civilian-populated areas in government-controlled western Aleppo. She added that more than 30 people including 10 children had reportedly been killed.

Last week insurgents launched an offensive against government-held western Aleppo. It came more than a month into an operation by the army to retake the city’s rebel-held eastern districts, which it had already put under siege.

The UN spokeswoman also said that shelling by government forces and their allies was also reported to be continuing, leading to the deaths of at least 12 civilians including two children over the same period.