Russian jets to continue Syria strikes
Russian aircraft will continue to fly tens of missions a day against targets in Syria despite a withdrawal of forces announced by Vladimir Putin earlier this week, military officials said yesterday.
Russian air strikes are supporting a regime offensive against Isil around the ancient city of Palmyra, generals said yesterday, in an apparent signal that the Kremlin will not relinquish direct military support for Bashar al-Assad despite pulling out the bulk of its forces from the country.
"Conditions have been created for the encirclement and definitive defeat of Isil armed formations in Palmyra," said Lt Gen Sergei Rudskoi, the head of Russia's National Defence Control Centre.
"Government troops and patriotic forces with the support of the Russian air force are carrying out a large-scale operation to liberate Palmyra.
"On average, Russian planes are flying 20 to 25 combat sorties each day."
Isil, which seized control of Palmyra in May last year, is not party to a ceasefire between regime forces and most rebel groups that came into force on February 27.
Isil claimed to have killed five Russian soldiers, including a senior adviser, fighting alongside regime troops near the city.
The terror group also claimed to have killed six members of the Syrian army as well as Hizbollah fighters.
A website linked to Isil, Aamaq, published a video showing the bloodied corpse of a man in military gear that it claimed was a Russian military advisor. The footage also showed equipment apparently taken from the body, including a customised AK-74 rifle and a military first aid kit.
Lt Gen Rudskoi did not address the terror group's claims. Maj Gen Igor Konashenkov, the chief spokesman for the ministry of defence, declined to comment when asked to respond to the claim. Although Russia has not formally acknowledged sending ground forces into combat in Syria, it is widely believed to have deployed armour, artillery and special forces alongside Syrian regime troops.
Mr Putin appeared tacitly to acknowledge that when he publicly decorated Maj Gen Yuri Yarovitsky, the deputy commander of the First Tank Army of Russia's Western Military District, at a welcome home ceremony for veterans of the Syrian expedition in the Kremlin on Thursday. (© Daily Telegraph London)