Russia carried out a fresh wave of airstrikes in Syria on Friday amid international warnings that Moscow’s military action would “fuel extremism” and fears on the ground that civilians were being killed.
In a statement, Russia’s Defense Ministry said that it had hit 12 targets belonging to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), including a command post and a communications center in the province of Aleppo.
But it was concern over the potential of Moscow to focus on groups other than ISIL that prompted a response Friday from a U.S.-led coalition, which also carries out airstrikes in the strife-torn country, calling on Moscow to immediately cease attacks on Syria’s opposition.
A joint statement by France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Britain and the United States said that military action by Russia would serve only to “fuel more extremism and radicalization.”
The text of the statement was released by the Turkish Foreign Ministry and confirmed by the French government. Washington and its allies have expressed concerns that Russian intervention could serve to strengthen the position of its ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose removal had been a condition for talks aimed at ending the four and a half year-long conflict.
Russian jets on Thursday hit areas in the suburbs of Hama and Idlib , all areas under the control of loose coalitions of rebel groups, including the Western-backed Free Syrian Army.
Activists on the ground told Al Jazeera that they believed the majority of the attacks had hit civilian targets, a claim that Moscow denies.
In the Hama suburb of Habeet, an airstrike at around 8:30 pm local time killed three civilians, including a 5-year-old girl, and injured 12 others, according to opposition activist Hadi al-Abdullah.
“The destruction caused by the strike was massive. A two-story house was completely flattened to the ground,” he told Al Jazeera.
Earlier, an attack on Jisr al-Shoghour in the northwestern province of Idlib destroyed a mosque and killed two civilians, other activists told Al Jazeera.
In Idlib’s Jabal al-Zawya region, two children were among at least seven civilians killed in suspected Russian airstrikes, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The UK-based monitoring group said Russian airstrikes in Syria have killed 30 civilians since they were launched on Wednesday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin rejected allegations that civilians had been killed in Russian raids, dubbing the reports “information warfare.”
Moscow has instead insisted that the airstrikes were hitting ISIL
But Western officials and activists on the ground have expressed concern that they are hitting opposition rebel fighters. Neither Idlib nor Hama has had an ISIL presence since January 2014.
The initial Russian strikes on Wednesday hit Talbiseh, a suburb in the central Homs suburb that is under the control of the Free Syrian Army, Ahrar Al-Sham rebel group, Faylaq Al-Sham group, and the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front.
The rebel groups had pushed back ISIL from the suburb six months ago.
A Russian official said on Friday that its military raids were likely to last for three to four months and will intensify.
“There is always a risk of getting bogged down but in Moscow they're talking about three to four months of operations,” Alexei Pushkov, the head of the foreign affairs committee of Russia's lower house of parliament, told France's Europe 1 radio.
The Syrian conflict, which began as protests against Assad's regime in 2011, has escalated into a multi-faceted war that has drawn thousands of fighters from overseas.
Over the past four years, more than 250,000 people have been killed and around 9 million people have been force to flee their homes.
Al Jazeera and wire services. With additional reporting by Basma Atassi.