Russia dramatically escalated its air war in Syria, unleashing heavy bombardments and cruise missile strikes from the Caspian Sea as cover for a major Syrian army ground offensive. Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russian warships had fired cruise missiles on Islamic State group positions in Syria for the first time and that Moscow had begun synchronising its strikes with the army’s ground movements against rebels. A video map released by Russia’s defence ministry showed the missile launched from warships in the South Caspian Sea and flying close to 1,500 kilometers through Iranian and Iraqi airspace before hitting targets in Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported at least 40 airstrikes in Hama and neighbouring Idlib province, which is controlled by the powerful Army of Conquest alliance that includes Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front. Russia says it’s forces have hit 112 targets since its operations in Syria- which it insists targets IS and other “terrorist groups”- began on September 30. In Washington, State Department spokesman John Kirby said: “Greater than 90% of the Russian strikes that we’ve seen them take to date have not been against IS or Al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists. They have been largely against opposition groups that want a better future for Syria and don’t want to see the Assad regime stay in power.” Meanwhile, French President François Hollande warned that failure to act in Syria risked “total war” in the Middle East. “If we leave these religious clashes between Sunni and Shiites, they will grow. Don’t think we will be sheltered, this will be a total war,” he said in a speech to the European Parliament.