US-led coalition air raids reportedly killed dozens of Syrian soldiers on Saturday, endangering a US-Russian brokered ceasefire and prompting an emergency UN Security meeting as tensions between Washington and Moscow escalated.
The United States military said the coalition stopped its strikes against what it believed to be ISIL positions in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor on Saturday after Russia informed it that Syrian military personnel and vehicles may have been hit.
“We are investigating the incident,” US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power told journalists as the emergency Security Council meeting, called by Russia, got under way in New York.
“If we determine that we did indeed strike Syrian military personnel, that was not our intention. And we of course regret the loss of life.”
If confirmed, it would mark the first known direct American strike on forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Russia said 62 Syrian soldiers were killed and at least 100 more wounded in strikes by “warplanes from the international anti-jihadist coalition”.
The Russian military said two F-16 and two A-10 jets flew into Syrian air space from neighbouring Iraq to carry out the raids.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group gave a toll of 83 soldiers killed, as it confirmed the strikes were US-led coalition raids.
A US military official speaking to the AFP news agency also appeared to confirm the attack, saying “we believe about a half-dozen vehicles, including what we think was a tank, were struck as well as personnel who were out in the open”.
Power accused Russia of pulling a “stunt” by calling for an emergency Security Council meeting to demand an explanation from the US. She said Moscow should instead demand a meeting with the Syrian government to press for peace.
“Russia really needs to stop the cheap point scoring and the grandstanding and the stunts and focus on what matters, which is implementation of something we negotiated in good faith with them,” Power told reporters before the meeting.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin responded by accusing the US of violating agreements that it would not target Syrian positions and said the action was a “bad omen” for a US-Russian deal on halting the fighting in Syria.
Washington and Moscow reached an agreement in September that calls for a ceasefire, the delivery of aid and the joint targeting of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known and ISIS) and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.
The ceasefire came into effect on Monday and has largely held, despite dozens of alleged violations.