Jets strike U.S.-backed forces in eastern Syria

BEIRUT (Reuters) – U.S.-backed militias in Syria said they came under attack on Saturday from Russian jets and Syrian government forces in Deir al-Zor province, a flashpoint in an increasingly complex battlefield.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias fighting with the U.S.-led coalition, said six of its fighters were wounded in the strike.

The Pentagon said Russia bombed a position east of the Euphrates river where it knew SDF fighters and coalition advisers were stationed. The jets did not injure coalition forces, it said.

There was no immediate comment from Moscow or Damascus.

Washington and Moscow support separate offensives in the Syrian conflict, with both advancing against Islamic State militants in the eastern region that borders Iraq.

“Our forces east of the Euphrates were hit with an attack from the Russian aircraft and Syrian regime forces, targeting our units in the industrial zone,” the SDF said in a statement.

The SDF accused Damascus of trying to obstruct its fighters. Such attacks “waste energies that should be used against terrorism … and open the door to side conflicts,” it said.

The assaults by the Russian-backed Syrian army and the U.S.-backed SDF have at times raised fears of clashes that could stoke tensions between the competing world powers.

Both offensives have converged on Islamic State from opposite sides of the Euphrates river that bisects oil-rich Deir al-Zor, Islamic State’s last major foothold in Syria.

Syrian troops with Iran-backed militias have closed in from the west since last week, while the SDF advances from the east.

Russian and U.S. battles against Islamic State in Syria have mostly stayed out of each other’s way, with the Euphrates often acting as a dividing line. Talks have been under way to extend a formal demarcation line, officials have said.

The U.S. coalition has said the SDF does not plan to enter Deir al-Zor city, where Syrian soldiers have broken an Islamic…

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