BEIRUT — Russia on Tuesday rebuffed claims that its warplanes struck a hospital in northern Syria in airstrikes the previous day that killed at least nine people as Syrian government forces and a predominantly Kurdish coalition are making against rival groups in the country's north.
In Moscow, President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the hospital report was another case in which those who make such accusations against Russia are unable to back up their claims. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights had said Russian warplanes targeted the hospital in Idlib province on Monday, destroying it and killing nine people. France said that such attacks "could constitute war crimes."
Peskov, in a conference call with journalists, referred the parties making the accusations to the "primary source" and said they should rely on official announcements from the Syrian government.
"For us, in this situation, the primary source is the official announcement from the Syrian government," he said. When pressed, he told journalists that the Syrian government had made a string of announcement on who could have been behind the bombing. He also noted that Syria's ambassador to Russia said the hospital was destroyed by the Americans.
The airstrikes came just days after Russia and other world powers agreed to bring about a pause in fighting that would allow for the delivery of humanitarian aid and the revival of Syrian peace talks. The projected truce agreed on Friday in Munich was to begin in a week, but there has been no sign it would happen.
Meanwhile, Syrian government troops and a predominantly Kurdish coalition of fighters advanced and captured more areas in the north from rival groups on Tuesday, while pro-government forces routed extremists from a main power station in the area.
The north has been the focus of the most intense clashes in recent weeks in Syria.
Syria's state news agency SANA and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government forces took the villages of Ahras and Misqan in the northern province of Aleppo. Separately, members of the Syria Democratic Forces, a coalition of Arab and Kurdish groups, captured the major town of Tel Rifaat, one of the largest militant strongholds in Aleppo.After Tel Rifaat, SDF fighters also took the nearby village of Kfar Naseh, south of the town.
The SDF fighters are a separate entity in Syria's five-year civil war and have mostly battled the Islamic State group. Parts of the coalition oppose President Bashar Assad but have also fought against other rebels and the Western-backed opposition.
Intense clashes broke out Tuesday near the village of Kaljibrin as SDF fighters tried to reach it, according to the Observatory and Aleppo-based activist Bahaa al-Halaby. If SDF captures Kaljibrin, it would squeeze rebels in their stronghold of Mareh and the adjacent village of Sheikh Issa, which is also under attack by the IS.
Also Tuesday, government forces and allied gunmen captured a power station in eastern Aleppo from IS that the extremists had used as a jailhouse. The Observatory said the station and nearby villages were captured under the cover of aerial attacks by Syrian and Russian warplanes and helicopter gunships.
Meanwhile, in the city of Aleppo, insurgents repelled an attack by SDF fighters on the neighborhoods of Hullok and Bustan al-Basha, according to al-Halaby and the Aleppo Media Center.
"They were trying to besiege (rebel-held parts) of the city of Aleppo but were forced out," al-Halaby said via Skype.
In Damascus, the U.N. special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, met on Tuesday with Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem. In a brief statement to reporters after the meeting, de Mistura said the talks focused on "the issue of humanitarian and hindered access to all besieged areas, not only by the government but also by the opposition and ISIL," another acronym that refers to the IS.
The UN envoy arrived in the Syrian capital Monday for discussions on aid deliveries and how to resume peace talks in Geneva.
Indirect peace talks between representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition collapsed earlier this month in Geneva after just two days, largely because of the government offensive in Aleppo.
Berry reported from Moscow. Associated Press writer Albert Aji contributed to this report from Damascus, Syria.