Russia accuses Belgium of bombing civilian targets in Syria

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The foreign ministry in Moscow has summoned Belgium’s ambassador following claims that Brussels’ fighter jets bombed civilians in a village in Aleppo province. Belgium has denied the charge.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova confirmed that Belgian Ambassador Alex Van Meeuwen had appeared at the ministry in response to a summons after Moscow alleged that two Belgian F-16s had bombed a village.

Moscow had claimed on Thursday that two Belgian F-16 fighter jets flying from a base in Jordan bombed the village of Hassajek in the war-ravaged Aleppo province on Tuesday, killing six people, Russia’s state-financed broadcaster “Russia Today” said.

Later that day, Belgian Defense Minister Steven Vandeput issued a statement saying the identification numbers of the two aircraft did not belong to the Belgian airforce. He also demanded a “formal retraction of this groundless and unsubstantiated allegation.”

Belgium ‘deceiving’ world

Syrien Aleppo Aufsicht auf Stadt (Reuters/A. Ismail)

Russia’s foreign ministry condemned the denial, saying Vandeput was “deliberately deceiving people in Belgium and elsewhere in the world, or his subordinates and the Americans are lying to the leadership of Belgium,” RT quoted Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov as saying. Belgium is part of the US-led coalition fighting “Islamic State” militants in Syria.

According to Konashenkov, the Belgian warplanes struck the village in Aleppo at 00:35 GMT on Tuesday, killing six civilians and wounding four others. The planes were tracked to Iraq and to Deir ez Zor in Syria, where a US KC-153 tanker refuelled them.

He said that his country had “effective air defense measures” that were capable of monitoring the sky above almost all of Syria. “Detailed information about the operation of the Belgian F-16’s in the Syrian sky will be delivered to the Belgian side through diplomatic and military channels,” he added.

The Russian general emphasized that this was “not the first time when the international coalition conducted airstrikes against civilian targets and later denied responsibility for them.”

Russian flotilla nears English channel

Meanwhile, EU leaders on Friday debated ways to tackle Moscow as a flotilla of Russian warships neared the English Channel en route to Syria’s coast. The leaders discussed Syria and the Russian annexation of Crimea, but stopped short of issuing sanctions.

British warships had been sent to shadow Russian aircraft carriers, news agencies reported. British frigate HMS Richmond escorted Admiral Kuznetsov and HMS Duncan sailed from Portsmouth to monitor the ships’ passage. The vessels were sailing in international waters and NATO forces, including those of Norway, the Netherlands and Britain will not be able to restrict their movement.

“Russia’s strategy is to weaken the EU,” European Council President Donald Tusk said ahead of a two-day meeting in Brussels. Referring to the ongoing truce in Syria, French President Francois Hollande said it was imperative to find a path “toward talks and negotiations and to bring an end to atrocities that we have witnessed for too long.”

Italian President Matteo Renzi said that the EU ministers had approved a document which demanded the need to come to an agreement as soon as possible and reach a real truce.

mg/rg  (AP, Reuters, AFP)