UK accuses Russia of aiding Islamic State by bombing opposition groups

The British Foreign Secretary has issued a stinging rebuke of Russian policy in Syria

UK accuses Russia of aiding Islamic State by bombing opposition groups

Russian air force personnel stand near a Russian war plane at Hemeimeem airbase, Syria, in October 2015 (PA Images)

Russia is helping so-called Islamic State in Syria by targeting mainly moderate rebel forces in airstrikes, the UK's Foreign Secretary has claimed.

Philip Hammond said it was "unacceptable" that Moscow was "weakening the opposition" and giving an advantage to the jihadist group that it "claimed to be engaged against".

He said around 75% of Russian bombings were thought to target moderate forces who were "part of the solution to the Syrian problem".

Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Hammond added that "with our coalition partners, including the US, we will continue to urge the Russians... to focus their fire solely on" IS.

And he also insisted no civilians have died as a result of British air strikes, according to reports received by the Government.

However, monitoring groups have questioned whether his claim includes drone strikes in Iraq.

The British Government has ruled out sending ground forces but Mr Hammond said UK non-combat troops could provide "very substantial" reinforcement to a credible ground force fighting IS in Syria and Iraq.

The foreign secretary said the Government had not dismissed the idea of providing logistics, surveillance and intelligence support for any troops that took the battle to the extremist group.

He suggested Russian leader Vladimir Putin - who has supported President Bashar al Assad - may know what the "end game" is, but efforts will go on to press the Russians to "focus their fire solely" on IS.

Meanwhile, Mr Putin's defence minister has reportedly told the Russian parliament that its air campaign in Syria will not end quickly.

He was quoted as saying "we can't expect the operation to end fast" and there was no quick end in sight because extremist groups were getting new recruits.

Unspecified other nations were failing to offer a strong contribution in the fight against terrorism, he reportedly said, adding Russia had no intention of taking part in a ground war.