Russia rejects Amnesty charges over Syria raids

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Media captionAmnesty has said Russian air strikes have killed hundreds of civilians

Russia has dismissed as "total lies" a report by Amnesty International accusing it of indiscriminate air strikes in Syria.

A Defence Ministry spokesman said he saw "nothing specific and nothing new" in the report.

He also denied the Russian military used cluster munitions in Syria.

The human rights group said it had evidence that the first two months of Russian air strikes in Syria had killed at least 200 civilians.

Some of the attacks "may amount to war crimes", one Amnesty official said.

Amnesty is also researching concerns about the US-led coalition air strikes in Syria, its report said.

The US has rarely acknowledged civilian deaths in its air bombardment of the so-called Islamic State (IS), which began in September 2014, although some monitoring groups say the toll could run into hundreds.

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Russia began air strikes in September 2015, saying it was acting at the request of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It is targeting IS and other groups it designates as terrorists - some of which are backed by the West.

'Legitimate targets'

"We examined this report," Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told a briefing in Moscow.

"Once again there was nothing specific or new that was published, only cliches and fakes that we have already repeatedly exposed."

In the report, Amnesty said it had "researched remotely" more than 25 Russian attacks that took place in Homs, Hama, Idlib, Latakia and Aleppo between 30 September and 29 November.

It said there was evidence that Russia's military "unlawfully used unguided bombs in densely populated areas and inherently indiscriminate cluster munitions".

It had interviewed witnesses to the attacks by phone or over the internet - and had audio and video evidence, as well as "advice from weapons experts".

However Maj-Gen Konashenkov said that as Amnesty International carried out its research remotely, it had no way of checking on the ground that there were no military targets in areas where civilians were killed.

He pointed out that militants used weapons mounted on vehicles and that "each vehicle is considered a tactical unit and represents a legitimate military target".

As for cluster munitions, "Russia does not use them... we have no such weapons on our base in Syria."

Attack on market : Idlib province : 29 November 2015

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Image caption A busy Sunday market became a scene of carnage within seconds, witnesses said

One of the deadliest attacks detailed in the report occurred in Ariha, Idlib province, on 29 November. Amnesty says at least one suspected Russian warplane fired three missiles into a market when there was no obvious military target nearby.

A local activist group said 49 civilians were either dead or missing feared dead.

"It was a normal Sunday - there was nothing unusual. People were buying goods - children were eating," activist Mohammed Qurabi al-Ghazal told Amnesty.

"First there was a loud explosion - dirt flying in the air - followed immediately by shock. In just a few moments, people were screaming, the smell of burning was in the air and there was just chaos."

The armed group Jaysh al-Fateh controlled the area, but did not have any presence inside Ariha itself, he said.

A report by another group, Human Rights Watch, three days ago accused Syrian government forces and their Russian allies of making "extensive" use of cluster munitions against rebel groups.

Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday Russia was "conducting its operation in strict conformity with principles and norms of the international law".

The Kremlin has previously described similar reports as "information warfare" aimed at discrediting its operations in Syria.

President Vladimir Putin said in October that reports of alleged civilian casualties had emerged before the first air strikes were even carried out.

More than 250,000 people are believed to have been killed and millions of people have been forced to flee their homes since the conflict began in Syria in March 2011.