Jens Stoltenberg - NATO
Jens Stoltenberg – NATO – Photo  Source

BRUSSELS (AA) – Russia’s ongoing airstrikes in Syria are undermining the peace talks in Geneva, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Friday.

“The intense Russian airstrikes, mainly targeting opposition groups in Syria, is undermining the efforts to find a political solution to the conflict,” Stoltenberg told reporters ahead of an EU defense ministers meeting.

The NATO chief said the alliance strongly supports all efforts to find negotiated peaceful and political solution to the conflict in Syria.

“But the increased Russian presence and air activity in Syria is also causing increased tensions and violations of Turkish airspace. This creates risks, heightens tensions,” Stoltenberg added.

He further described it as a challenge for NATO because “it is also a violation of NATO airspace”.

Air offensives by Russian fighter jets in Syria have recently been the source of diplomatic strain between Ankara and Moscow since a Russian SU-24 violating Turkish airspace was intercepted and shot down on Nov. 24 by Turkish F-16 fighters.

Asked about Moscow’s allegations that Turkey is preparing military action in Syria, Stoltenberg said the facts show that Russia has recently implemented a heavy substantial military build-up in Syria with air forces, ground forces and increased naval presence in the eastern part of the Mediterranean.

Since Sept. 30 of last year, Russia — a close ally of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad regime — has targeted a number of civilian areas in Syria, according to U.S. officials.

In a recent report, the Syrian Network for Human Rights asserted that Russian airstrikes had killed 583 people — the vast majority of whom were civilians — in the Syrian cities of Idlib, Aleppo, Hama and Homs and in rural areas such as Latakia, Daraa and southern Damascus since it began its air campaign last September.

While the Kremlin says the airstrikes target positions held by the Daesh militant group, some members of the western NATO alliance say Russia is targeting moderate opposition groups opposed to Assad.

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