Russians accused of airstrike in Syria

US-backed forces in eastern Syria say Russia bombed their positions in a major natural gas field they recently captured from Islamic State militants.

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The Syrian Democratic Forces said a Russian airstrike killed one of its fighters and wounded two others in the Conoco gas field, in Deir el-Zour province. Russia’s Defence Ministry denied the report.

SDF fighters captured Conoco field, Syria’s largest, from IS militants on Saturday.

It was not the first time the SDF has accused Russia of targeting its forces in oil and gas-rich Deir el-Zour, where Russian backed Syrian troops are waging a separate offensive against the extremists.

The two sides are racing to defeat the militants and snap up oil and gas fields, fuelling fears of conflict between the two groups.

Both the US and Russia have embedded special forces with their respective partners and are supporting their advances with aggressive airstrikes.

The Pentagon accused Russian jets of attacking the SDF last week. Russia in turn said its forces were targeted twice from SDF-held territory.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 72 pro-government fighters have been killed in battle with the jihadists since crossing the Euphrates last week.

At least seven Russian soldiers have been killed, and Russia’s Defence Ministry acknowledged that one of its generals was killed in the area on Sunday.

Syria’s largest oil field, the al-Omar, is located on the eastern side of the river.

Elsewhere in Syria, Russian and government warplanes stepped up their airstrikes against rebels as well as al-Qaeda-linked insurgents in different areas, straining a patchwork of cease-fires and “de-escalation” agreements that brought relative calm in recent weeks.

Activists and monitoring groups reported airstrikes in Aleppo, Idlib and Hama provinces, as well as clashes between rebels and pro-government forces in northern Syria and on the outskirts of the capital, Damascus.