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Evidence emerges of Russian cluster bombs used against US-backed Syrian rebels

Russia Today channel shows bombs being loaded on planes in Syria, where Russia has previously denied using them
What appears to be a RBK-500 cluster bomb loaded on a Russian plane in Syria (AFP)

Images and video released on social media support claims by a US-backed Syrian opposition group that they were struck by Russian cluster bombs.

Footage inserted into a Russia Today report appeared to show Russian jets being equipped with the RBK-500 ZAB-25 incendiary cluster bomb in the Khmeimim airbase in Syria.

The clip was later removed from the show, but social media activists managed to retrieve it from YouTube:

Russia has previously denied using cluster bombs in Syria, with the Russian defence ministry dismissing the allegations in December as "assumptions without any proof".

In a statement on Saturday, the New Syrian Army, a US trained group fighting in southern Syria, claimed they had been targeted by Russian planes at al-Tanaf near the Jordanian border earlier this week.

"The Russian aggression and bullying of the New Syrian Army camp is evident in the destruction caused by their cluster bombs," said the group in a statement.

"The scenes of devastation are a testament to Russia's intentions for a forced occupation of Syria."

Russia has denied the reports, however.

In a video conference with Russian military officials, the Pentagon said on Saturday that it had expressed "strong concerns about the attack on the coalition-supported counter-ISIL forces at the al-Tanaf garrison," which is located near the Jordanian border.

Hours later Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov denied that Russia had bombed areas where US-backed rebels are operating.

"The target that was bombed was located more than 300km away from the area" indicated by the United States, he said.

Konashenkov insisted that the Russian air force had acted "within the framework of the agreed procedures" and had given advance warning of its ground targets to the US-led coalition.

The ministry said late on Thursday that it had not carried out strikes against opposition forces included in the ceasefire but did not mention al-Tanaf.

The Pentagon voiced its concerns as Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu paid a surprise visit to Bashar al-Assad in Damascus to discuss military cooperation "to fight against terrorist organisations on Syrian soil".

Konashenkov on Sunday also accused the United States of not providing the coordinates of the areas where the US-backed rebels are active, "not allowing for precision in the operations of the Russian air force".

Russia has long claimed that they only target the Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front in Syria. However, many have accused them of targeting other opposition groups, mainly those fighting the Assad government.

On Sunday, the New Syrian Army reportedly captured the al-Zubeida Point in the southeastern countryside of the Homs Governorate, according to the pro-government al-Masdar news site, following clashes with IS.

Unlike other opposition groups, the New Syrian Army only fights against IS and does not target Assad's forces.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.