Russia accused the United States on Wednesday of allowing Daish to operate “under its nose” in Syria, saying Washington was letting the militant group move about freely in an area abutting a US military base.
The allegations, made by Russia’s Defence Ministry, centre on a US military base at Tanf, a strategic Syrian highway border crossing with Iraq in the south of the country.
Russia says the US base is illegal and that it and the area around it have become “a black hole” where militants operate unhindered.
The United States says the Tanf facility is a temporary base used to train partner forces to fight against Daish. Pentagon spokesman Colonel Robert Manning on Tuesday said Washington remained committed to killing off Daish and denying it safe havens and the ability to carry out strikes.
But Major-General Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the Russian Defence Ministry, said Moscow wanted to know how around 300 Daish militants in pickup trucks had passed through the US-controlled area and tried to block the highway between Damascus and Deir Al Zor used to supply Syrian forces.
He said the US had not yet given an explanation.
“We suggest the American side also explain about another incidence of their ‘selective blindness’ towards militants operating under their nose,” Konashenkov said in a statement.
He said about 600 militants based in a refugee camp in the US controlled area had driven en masse to a former customs post called Tafas on the Syrian-Jordanian border earlier this month and seized food and medical supplies meant for locals.
“You don’t need to be an expert to now forecast an attempt to rupture the peace agreement in the southern de-escalation zone,” said Konashenkov.
“We issue a warning. All responsibility for sabotaging the peace process will lay exclusively with the American side.”
Separately, local officials and Syrian tribal leaders are leading “discussions” to secure safe passage for civilians from parts of Raqa still held by Daish, the US-led coalition said on Tuesday.
The coalition is backing an offensive by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which have ousted Daish from around 90 percent of its one-time Syrian bastion.
On Tuesday, the coalition said local officials from the Raqa Civil Council (RCC) — a government-in-exile based north of the battle-torn city — were negotiating the exit of civilians from remaining Daish-held areas.
“The Raqa Civil Council is leading discussions to determine the best way to enable civilians trapped by Daish to exit the city, where some are being held as human shields by the terrorists,” the coalition said in an emailed statement.
“Those departing Raqa who are found to have fought for Daish will be turned over to local authorities to face justice.”