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UK Says Putin Could Share Responsibility For Syria’s War Crimes

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Ivan Plis Reporter, Daily Caller News Foundation
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Britain’s top diplomat has said Russia’s military support of Syria’s government could lead to shared responsibility for the Syrian regime’s war crimes.

“We are clear that if Russia wants to join with the coalition in air strikes against [ISIS] then we would welcome that,” Philip Hammond, the U.K. foreign secretary, told reporters. “If what Russia is doing is carrying out airstrikes in defense of the regime then that is a very different issue.”

Worse yet, Hammond concluded, any vestiges of a moderate resistance to Assad’s regime could be driven into Islamic State camps, should Russia’s strikes continue to leave those camps unscathed.

Russia launched its first overt airstrikes Wednesday, as part of a campaign whose rhetoric focused on targeting Islamic State. But its initial attacks were on pockets of land held by other rebel groups and surrounded by territory loyal to President Bashar Assad — miles away from any Islamic State stronghold. (RELATED: Russia’s First Strikes In Syria Prove They’re Not Fighting ISIS)

By targeting non-Islamic State rebels, Vladimir Putin’s Syria strategy echoes the regime’s own approach to the four-and-a-half-year civil war: attack less radical rebels, in order to amplify the perceived threat of an unchecked Islamic State.

Evidence also quickly emerged of Russian bombs hitting civilian areas rather than militants. So by stating that Putin “may arguably have a legal exposure to this criminal activity,” the U.K. is cautioning that Russia is welcome to join the fight against Islamic State — but only if Russia actually proves to be targeting the group.

For the U.S. and its allies including the U.K., Assad’s regular use of indiscriminate violence against civilians lost him legitimacy as Syria’s leader years ago. France has gone so far as to launch an investigation of Assad Wednesday for crimes against humanity. (RELATED: Syrian Regime Bombing Kills 100 Civilians In Suburban Market)

Russia, on the other hand, sees Syria as an indispensable ally in the region, especially given its access to ports on the Mediterranean.

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