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The State Department on Friday derided Russia’s denial of recent hospital bombings as unworthy of a response, after Russian officials claimed the reported attacks were pure fiction.

“They don’t even merit a response by me,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said. “It isn’t John Kirby saying that hospitals are being hit. It is respectable aid agencies that are reporting this, on their own, proactively.”

U.S. officials have accused Russia and Syrian dictator Bashar Assad of bombing humanitarian workers repeatedly in recent months, perhaps most notably in an attack on a United Nations aid convoy that killed 20 people in September.

Secretary of State John Kerry and other Western officials have called for an investigation of war crimes in Syria, but the conversation has taken on a more personal tone in recent days as Kirby reiterated U.S. condemnation of such attacks.



“Three days later, it has become perfectly clear to one and all that the allegedly bombed ‘hospitals’ and ‘mobile clinics’ in Aleppo exist only in the imagination of U.S. Department of State spokesman John Kirby,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov said Friday. “This news blunder will certainly leave a lasting stain on Admiral Kirby’s biography.”

The World Health Organization reported earlier this week that five hospitals and a mobile clinic were attacked. Doctors Without Borders reported that two of their facilities were bombed on Wednesday.

“I don’t know whose airplanes are hitting these hospitals,” Kirby said. “What I can say is we’ve got credible claims from legitimate, well-established agencies that are reporting this, and they are hospitals and they are patients. People that are trying to get well are, in fact, being bombed.

“And frankly, it doesn’t really matter whose airplane is dropping the bomb. It is either the Syrians or the Russians, or both. The fact is, it’s got to stop, and it needs to stop.”

The direct shot at Kirby, however, follows a tense exchange between the State Department spokesman and a Russia Today correspondent who pressed for details about the locations of hospitals reported to have been bombed.

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“[W]hy don’t you question your own defense ministry?” Kirby replied. When another reporter cautioned against such comments, Kirby emphasized that “[she’s] from a state-owned outlet that’s not independent” and said that he’s “not going to put Russia Today on the same level with the rest of you who are representing independent media outlets.”

Russian officials condemned Kirby’s remarks and threatened to retaliate against U.S. media in Moscow. “If our TV channel faces the same attitude in Washington once again, American journalists will have a special place set aside at the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson’s briefings,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

Zakharova also said that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would discuss the incident with Kerry when they met Thursday, but that didn’t happen. “Mr. Kirby was not here, so I decided not to complain to his boss in his absence,” Lavrov said.

Russia’s top diplomat defended their military operations in Syria, however. “Our air force and the Syrian air force only work in the provinces of Idlib and Homs to prevent the ISIL who might be leaving Mosul from getting to Syria,” he said.

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