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Russia says Syrian opposition gave intelligence to launch air strikes

This is the first time Moscow has claimed to be working alongside rebel groups fighting to bring down Bashar al-Assad
A handout image from the Russian Defence Ministry shows the aftermath of a Russian air strike (AFP)

Russian jets bombed 24 targets in Syria on Tuesday after "opposition representatives" gave them coordinates, marking the first time Moscow has claimed to work with opposition groups during its air campaign. 

"The coordinates of all of these targets were given to us by opposition representatives," senior military official Andrei Kartapolov said, without specifying which groups Moscow had cooperated with. 

Kartapolov said Moscow's jets hit targets close to Palmyra, Deir Ezzor, Ithriya and eastern Aleppo with assistance from the opposition, destroying "terrorist" command posts, munitions stores and anti-aircraft artillery.

Russia said last week that it had met with members of the Syrian opposition, although it did not specify which groups or individuals were involved.

Moscow has been bombing in Syria since 30 September, saying it is backing forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad against Islamic State (IS) fighters and other "terrorist" groups. 

But the US and its allies, who are involved in a separate air campaign against IS, have accused Moscow of primarily hitting more "moderate" groups fighting against Assad's government. 

Shortly after the bombing campaign began a group of US-trained rebels said their base in Idlib province had been hit by four Russian warplanes.

Russia said it had hit IS targets, although the areas that were struck are not under the control of the militants.

Moscow says it had set up "working coordination groups" aimed at bolstering the fight against IS, but said the identities of those involved were being kept secret.

"Such close cooperation will allow us to unite the efforts of the government troops with other patriotic forces in Syria that used to be in the opposition and act as a united front against the common enemy - international terrorism," the defence ministry said in a statement. 

Russia has bombed all but four of Syria’s 14 provinces since it began its campaign.

Some 600 people have been killed as a result of the air strikes, including at least 185 civilians, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Russian FM to meet UN Syria envoy

Meanwhile, it has been announced that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet with the UN's Syria envoy in Moscow on Wednesday as diplomats try to keep up a push aimed at ending the war.

"The main subject will be the political process in Syria and starting a genuine dialogue between Damascus and the Syrian opposition," Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told AFP on Tuesday.

Lavrov and UN envoy Staffan de Mistura met Friday in Vienna alongside the top diplomats from 17 other key international players on the Syrian conflict, including the United States, Iran and Saudi Arabia, in the broadest push yet to end the four-year conflict.

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