Russia denied a report in daily newspaper Kommersant that seven Russian planes had been destroyed by opposition shelling at Syria's Hmeymim air base on Dec. 31, the TASS news agency yesterday quoted the defense ministry as saying.
At least four Su-24 bombers, two Su-35S fighters and an An-72 transport plane, as well as an ammunition depot, were destroyed by the shelling, Kommersant said on its website, citing two "military-diplomatic" sources.
"The Kommersant report on alleged "actual destruction" of seven Russian war planes at Hmeymim air base is fake", TASS said, citing the ministry, as reported by Reuters. It said the Russian air group in Syria was "combat-ready."
The ministry said two Russian service personnel were killed in a mortar attack on the base by the opposition groups, according to TASS. Earlier, the ministry said a Mi-24 helicopter had crash-landed in Syria on Dec. 31 due to a technical fault and two pilots died.
Russia began establishing a permanent presence at Hmeymim and a naval base at Tartous last month, although President Vladimir Putin has ordered a "significant" withdrawal of his military from Syria, declaring their work largely done.
Meanwhile, at least 28 civilians have been killed by bombardment in the besieged Syrian opposition stronghold of Eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, most of them in Russian air raids, a monitor said.
Nineteen were killed in Russian strikes in the town of Misraba on Wednesday, while the remainder died the same day in regime strikes and shelling in other areas, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Seven children and 11 women were among those killed, according to the head of the Britain-based war monitor, Rami Abdel Rahman. Victims were taken to a hospital in Douma, where an AFP correspondent saw rescuers bringing in mostly women and children.
Home to some 400,000 inhabitants, Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, has remained under a crippling siege by the Assad regime since late 2012. Notably, Eastern Ghouta falls within a network of de-escalation zones -endorsed by Turkey, Russian, and Iran - in which acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.
The Al-Watan newspaper, which is close to the Syrian regime, yesterday said the army was gathering its troops on the outskirts of Harasta. The war in Syria has killed more than 340,000 people and displaced millions from their homes since it began in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests. The latest raids came after at least seven civilians, including five children, were killed Tuesday by air strikes in northwestern Idlib province, the Observatory said.
Compiled from wires