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Russia Warns Of Retaliation If Syrian Government Forces Are Attacked

A newborn baby is seen in a hospital in the eastern city of Deir al-Zour on September 20 as Syrian government forces continued to press forward with Russian air cover in an offensive against Islamic State extremists.

Russia has warned the United States that it will retaliate immediately if Syrian government forces come under fire from positions held by a U.S.-backed Kurdish-led militia in eastern Syria.

Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov made the comments in a statement on September 21, five days after the U.S.-led coalition said Russian jets struck Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour, wounding several of them.

His remarks came amid rising concerns of a confrontation on the ground between Russia-backed Syrian government forces and the U.S.-backed forces fighting the Islamic State (IS) militants who captured large swathes of Syrian territory in 2014.

Konashenkov said that SDF forces had taken up positions on the east bank of the Euphrates River with U.S. special operations forces, and that Syrian troops operating alongside Russian special forces near the city of Deir al-Zour were “twice targeted with massive fire from mortar launchers and rocket artillery” from the SDF positions.

A representative of the U.S. military command in Qatar was “notified in severe form that attempts to attack from districts where SDF fighters are located will be repelled,” Konashenkov said, adding: "Fire positions in these areas will be immediately suppressed with all available weapons."

The United States and Russia back separate military offensives in the Syrian war, both of which are advancing against IS militants in the east of the country near Iraq.

The government forces, backed by Russia and Iranian-allied militiamen, have gained control of most of the city of Deir al-Zour.

The SDF, supported by U.S.-led coalition air cover, said on September 20 that its campaign to capture the IS stronghold of Raqqa, north of Deir al-Zour, was in its final stages and that its fighters had seized 80 percent of the city.

Konashenkov claimed that Russian intelligence shows the coalition's operation in Raqqa had stopped and that SDF fighters redeployed from there to Deir al-Zour. He did not provide evidence.

He also said that a Syrian government offensive captured two villages on the west bank of the Euphrates overnight, taking about 16 square kilometers of land.

On September 16, the U.S.-led coalition said the Russian warplanes struck SDF forces in Deir al-Zour Province, wounding several fighters. The Russian Defense Ministry denied it.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters