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Russia 'outraged' at accusations it killed civilians in Syria

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Russia told the United Nations on Monday it was “outraged” by allegations that it had killed civilians in Syria and destroyed civilian infrastructure as a U.S.-based rights group accused Moscow’s air force of bombing 10 medical facilities in October.

A frame grab taken from footage released by Russia's Defence Ministry October 15, 2015, shows a Sukhoi Su-24M military aircraft landing on the tarmac at the Hmeymim air base near Latakia, Syria. REUTERS/Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation/Handout

Russia launched air strikes in Syria to help bolster forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad at the end of September, but Western powers accuse Moscow of targeting anti-Assad rebels instead of Islamic State militants. A U.S.-led coalition has been bombing Islamic State in Syria and Iraq for more than year.

Physicians for Human Rights said there had been 16 attacks on medical facilities in Syria in October, the worst toll since the civil war began nearly five years ago. It blamed at least 10 of those attacks and one death on Russian air strikes.

“We are outraged by different types of information regarding alleged civilian deaths and destruction of civilian infrastructure as a result of missile and air strikes by the Russian armed forces,” Russian Deputy U.N. Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov told a U.N. Security Council meeting on Syria.

Citing recent meetings of an International Syria Support Group in Vienna that aims to end the conflict, he dubbed unacceptable what he called “the politicization of human rights and humanitarian topics.”

Without laying any blame, U.N. aid chief Stephen O’Brien told the Security Council that attacks on civilian infrastructure continued unabated.

“We need a firm commitment from the parties to the conflict to take all necessary measures to protect civilians and stop the targeting of civilian infrastructure, including medical facilities, schools and key infrastructure networks,” he said.

A Syrian government crackdown on a pro-democracy movement in early 2011 led to an armed uprising. Islamic State militants took advantage of the chaos to seize territory in Syria and Iraq.

The United Nations says at least 250,000 people have been killed during the conflict, while four million have fled.

“Increased fighting in Northern Syria, including Russian military operations, has also had a significant impact on the humanitarian situation,” U.S. Deputy U.N. Ambassador Michele Sison told the Security Council, adding that in October alone, about 130,000 people had been newly displaced in Aleppo, Idlib, and Hama.

The United States apologised in October to medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres for a deadly bombing of its hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, while a Saudi Arabia-led coalition was accused by the United Nations of bombing a hospital in Yemen.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Christian Plumb