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Iran troops to join Syria war, Russian jets pound group trained by CIA

BEIRUT/MOSCOW: Hundreds of Iranian troops have arrived in Syria to join a major ground offensive on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad’s government, Lebanese sources said on Thursday, a further step in the rapid internationalisation of a civil war in which every major country in the region has a stake.

Russian warplanes that joined the fight this week bombed a camp run by rebels trained by the CIA, the group’s commander said, putting Moscow and Washington on opposing sides in a Middle East conflict for the first time since the Cold War.

The US and Russian militaries will hold talks at 11am EDT (1500 GMT) via video link to seek ways to keep their militaries apart as they wage parallel campaigns of air strikes in Syria, a US defence official said.

Russian jets struck targets near the cities of Hama and Homs in western Syria on the second day of their surprise air campaign.

Moscow said it had hit Islamic State positions, but the areas it struck are mostly held by a rival insurgent alliance, which unlike Islamic State is supported by US allies including Arab states and Turkey.

Hassan Haj Ali, head of the Liwa Suqour al-Jabal rebel group, told Reuters one of the targets was his group’s base in Idlib province, struck by around 20 missiles in two separate sorties. His fighters had been trained by the CIA in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, part of a programme Washington says is aimed at supporting groups that oppose both Islamic State and Assad.

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