Russia's Defense Ministry has confirmed its jets are carrying out air strikes in Syria, saying the attacks are targeting Islamic State positions.
Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told Russian news agencies on Wednesday that Russian jets are carrying out targeted air strikes on positions, vehicles and warehouses that Russia believes belong to ISIS militants.
But a U.S. official told Reuters that Russia's air strikes so far do not appear to be targeting Islamic State-held territory, a crucial detail which could complicate any potential cooperation with the United States in the war.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Russia was carrying out the strikes in the vicinity of Homs and perhaps other areas in Syria as well, noting that all U.S. information on Russian activity was still preliminary.
A U.S.-backed Syrian rebel group, known as Tajamu Alezzah, claimed on Twitter that Russian warplanes have hit its locations in the central city of Latamna. Washington has equipped and trained a number of moderate Syrian rebel groups, but most have been crushed by Al-Qaida's affiliate in Syria.
Russia cautioned the United States to clear Syrian airspace ahead of the strikes, the U.S. official said, adding, however, that the U.S.-led coalition was "continuing to fly missions in Syria."
A senior Russian military officer delivered the message to the United States in Baghdad on Wednesday, the U.S. official said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that a least 27 people were killed in air strikes on areas in Homs. Unconfirmed media reports in the Arab world claimed that these air strikes wer carried out by Russian jets deployed in an air force base near Latakia.
The strikes targeted northern areas in the Homs countryside. Six children were among the dead, while dozens were wounded, the Observatory added.
The Syrian presidency said on Wednesday that Russian air power had been sent to Syria after a request from Syrian President Bashar Assad to his Russian counterpart, state television said.
Lawmakers OK deployment
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday secured parliament's unanimous backing to launch air strikes against Islamic State militants in Syria, paving the way for imminent Russian military intervention in its closest Middle East ally.
The move sets the stage for Russia's biggest play in the region since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
Russia, which has been steadily dispatching more and more military aircraft to a base near Latakia, declined to say when it would launch its own strikes, but made it clear it too would be targeting Islamic State militants.
As part of its preparations, Moscow has already sent military experts to a recently established command center in Baghdad which is coordinating air strikes and ground troops in Syria, a Russian official told Reuters on Wednesday.
The Russian Defense Ministry said the center is used to share information on possible air strikes in Syria.
Sergei Ivanov, the Kremlin's Chief of Staff said Russia's missions would be limited and not open-ended and precluded the use of ground troops.
"As our president has already said, the use of ground troops has been ruled out. The military aim of our operations will be exclusively to provide air support to Syrian government forces in their struggle against ISIS (Islamic State)," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now