By Jennifer Griffin and Lucas Tomlinson
Russian warplanes began bombarding Syrian opposition targets in the war-torn nation's north Wednesday, following a terse meeting at which a Russian general asked Pentagon officials to clear out of Syrian air space and was rebuffed, Fox News has learned.
A U.S. official said Russian airstrikes targeted fighters in the vicinity of Homs, located roughly 60 miles east of a Russian naval facility in Tartus, and were carried out by a "couple" of Russian bombers. The strikes hit targets in Homs and Hama, but there is no presence of ISIS in those areas, a senior U.S. defense official said. These planes are hitting areas where Free Syrian Army and other anti-Assad groups are located, the official said.
Activists and a rebel commander on the ground said the Russian airstrikes have mostly hit moderate rebel positions and civilians. In a video released by the U.S.-backed rebel group Tajamu Alezzah, jets are seen hitting a building claimed to be a location of the group in the town of Latamna in the central Hama province.
The group commander Jameel al-Saleh told a local Syrian news website that the group's location was hit by Russian jets but didn't specify the damage.
A group of local activists in the town of Talbiseh in Homs province recorded at least 16 civilians killed, including two children.
According to a U.S. senior official, Presidents Obama and Putin agreed on a process to "deconflict" military operations. The Russians on Wednesday "bypassed that process," the official said.
The development came after Pentagon officials, in a development first reported by Fox News, brushed aside an official request, or "demarche," from Russia to clear air space over northern Syria, where Moscow said it intended to conduct airstrikes against ISIS on behalf of Assad, according to sources who spoke to Fox News. The request was made in a heated discussion between a Russian three-star general and U.S. officials at the American Embassy in Baghdad, sources said.
"If you have forces in the area we request they leave," said the general, who used the word "please" in the contentious encounter.
A senior Pentagon official said the U.S., which also has been conducting airstrikes against ISIS, but does not support Assad, said the request was not honored.
"We still conducted our normal strike operations in Syria today," the official said. "We did not and have not changed our operations."
"We still conducted our normal strike operations in Syria today"