The US and Russian military will begin discussions “as soon as possible” to avoid direct clashes in the air above Syria, top diplomats have said.

The news comes after Russia launched its first air strikes within Syria on Wednesday, ostensibly to target Islamic State positions within the country.

However, reports from US intelligence and rebel forces on the ground refute the Russian claims, and instead show evidence that the strikes targeted US-backed anti-Assad rebels unaffiliated with IS. Russian air strikes were reported in the towns of Zafaraneh, Rastan and Talbiseh, all of which are under rebel control and have no relationship with IS.

Embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has consistently described all Syrian opposition groups as “foreign terrorists” since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, in order to redefine his military action against his own people as protection of the state.

More recently, Assad and Russian officials have begun conflating US-backed moderate rebel groups and IS, despite the groups sharing little in ideology or method. The Russian air strikes against these groups under the guise of strikes against IS continues this policy.

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