damaged buildings and a minaret in the central Syrian town of Talbisseh in the Homs province
Damaged buildings and a minaret in the central Syrian town of Talbisseh where Russia carried out air strikesGetty Images

A Russian MP claimed there is no such thing as a moderate opposition to Assad, as Russia insisted that it targeted "terrorists" in its first air strikes in Syria.

"The moderate opposition is largely a myth invented by the United States. Its fighters are not fighting with Isis, they have gone to al-Qaeda, and fired at the Russian embassy. Is that moderation?" wrote the head of the Russian Duma's Committee for International Affairs, Alexei Pushkov on Twitter.

In its first military engagement outside the former Soviet Union since the occupation of Afghanistan in 1979, Russia launched air strikes in three Syrian provinces on 30 September.

A US defence official claimed that the air strikes targeted the Syrian opposition, and Washington accused Russia of "throwing gasoline on the fire" of the conflict. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaking in New York insisted that the air strikes aimed to hit positions of jihadist group Islamic State (Isis). "The rumours that the target of these airstrikes was not IS positions are unfounded," said Lavrov.

The campaign was started "in response to the appeal of the Syrian leadership to help fight ISIL and other terrorist groups," Lavrov said. His claims followed the Kremlin's insistence that the strikes targeted "a known list of terrorist organisations agreed upon with the Syrian government."

However, Syrian opposition groups claimed the air strikes killed 36 civilians, including children.

"The Russians struck northern Homs today and killed 36 innocent people...who fought against extremism," Khaled Khoja, head of the National Coalition, told AFP on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.

The Syrian Coalition said in a statement that it "strongly condemns the brutal bombing carried out by Russian warplanes on civilian targets in rural Homs and rural Hama, causing civilian casualties; including women and children".

After meeting at the UN on 30 September, Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry said they would hold further "de-conflictification" talks, with both Russian and US warplanes now operating non-coordinated combat missions in Syria.