BEIRUT: Russia Thursday denied any involvement in the deadly air strikes on a Syrian school on Wednesday and rejected a UN-led investigation showing its ally Damascus had carried out chemical attacks, as Moscow’s relations with the West took another hit.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon demanded an immediate probe into attack on the school in rebel-held Idlib province that he said “may amount to a war crime”.
Russia, whose military intervened in Syria in September 2015, denied having any role in air strikes on the school that the UN children’s agency UNICEF said killed 22 students and six teachers.
“The Russian Federation has nothing to do with this terrible tragedy, with this attack,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.
Zakharova said claims that Russian and Syrian warplanes had conducted the strikes were “a lie”.
Russia’s defense ministry also denied any involvement. “On Wednesday, October 26, not one Russian warplane entered that area,” spokesman Igor Konashenkov said. He said photographs taken by a Russian drone showed that the roof of the school reportedly hit in the strikes showed no damage and that there were no craters attributable to bombs in the area.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor, “warplanes — either Russian or Syrian — had carried out six strikes” in the Idlib provincial village of Hass, including on the school complex.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault was not convinced by the Russian denials.
“Who is responsible? In any case it is not the (Syrian) opposition, as to bomb you must have planes. It is either the Syrians, the regime of Bashar al-Assad, or the Russians,” Ayrault said in Paris.
Idlib province, controlled by an alliance of rebel groups and jihadists, is regularly bombed by Syrian and Russian warplanes but air strikes have intensified in recent weeks, according to the Observatory.
On a nearby front, Konashenkov said Russian and Syrian air forces had not conducted any flights in a 10-kilometre zone around Aleppo for the past 10 days.
Children were reportedly caught in the crossfire again Thursday, with state media saying at least six were killed and 15 wounded in rebel rocket attacks on the government-held west of Aleppo city.
The rocket fire hit two west Aleppo neighborhoods, with one of the attacks striking a school, said the official SANA news agency.