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Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Thursday that five Russian nationals were preliminarily confirmed to have been killed in Syria in clashes with the us -led coalition last week.

She said that others were injured, but details of their nationalities are being checked.

Meanwhile, a joint Russian and Syrian air campaign killed hundreds of civilians in the rebel-held enclaves of Eastern Ghouta and in the northern province of Idlib, amid accusations that the Syrian government is once again using toxic agents such as chlorine against its opponents.

"We don't have data about other Russians who could be in Syria".

The timing of the casualties coincided with a battle on February 7 near the Syrian city of Deir al-Zor where, according to USA officials and associates of the fighters involved, US-led coalition forces attacked forces aligned with Moscow's ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Numerous USA troops in Syria are operating with local, Kurdish-dominated allies known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, in the eastern oil-producing Deir el-Zour region along the Euphrates River.

It is the first time that Moscow officially admitted that Russian citizens were killed in a clash with the USA -led coalition in Syria.

The clashes show Moscow is more deeply involved in Syria militarily than it has said, and risks being drawn into direct confrontation with the United States in Syria. Observers noted the Russian military might have lacked information about the private contractors' move on oil facilities because of poor coordination.

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"The president is not at the wheel of the U.S".

The Kremlin has not acknowledged hiring these fighters, but as many as 2,000 Russian mercenaries, perhaps half of the total Russian military contingent, ...

Different media outlets have reported widely disparate casualty estimates: Pro-Kremlin sources have tended to downplay the losses, declaring about 10 to 20 Russians dead and up to 50 wounded, while others report casualties in the hundreds. The Pentagon said earlier this week it doesn't know the number of enemy force casualties at this time.

A source close to the Russian military contracting firm, Wagner, told Reuters that the majority of the 500 were Russians, and they advanced into a zone designated as neutral under a deal between the Russian military and the US-led coalition against ISIS.

Wagner's troops in Syria, which have numbered up to 2,000, took part in fighting to reclaim the ancient city of Palmyra in 2016 and 2017. "Several people suffered wounds but it requires verification, particularly as to whether all of them are Russian nationals", Zakharova said.

"I think they've cornered themselves by declarations about precise data on Russian meddling and now they are trying to at least some retroactive justifications but still they are floundering", he said. One of its leaders, Dmitry Utkin, is a former lieutenant colonel in Russia's military intelligence agency, the GRU.

The U.S. policy in Syria has always been vague and often inconsistent. "We can understand the reason why worldwide terrorists spread such rumors", Zakharova went on to say.

The U.S. responded with a deadly barrage of bombs and artillery that U.S. officials say killed about 100 of the attackers.

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