Russia launches air offensive in Syria
Russia announced a major air offensive in Syria on Tuesday as Syrian opposition activists reported the first airstrikes in three weeks in the besieged, rebel-held part of the northern city of Aleppo.
The offensive began hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President-elect Donald Trump discussed Syria over the phone and agreed on the need to combine efforts in the fight against what the Kremlin called their No 1 enemy “international terrorism and extremism.”
US President Barack Obama’s administration has been trying for months to negotiate a cease-fire in Aleppo, the epicenter of the war between President Bashar Assad and rebels fighting to topple him, some of whom receive US aid.
Al-Qaida’s local affiliate fights alongside the rebels, but the Islamic State (IS) group has no presence in Aleppo.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said in a meeting with Putin on Tuesday that the operation involves aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, which made a much-publicized trip to Syria’s shores last month. He said Russian warplanes would target ammunition depots, training camps and armaments factories in the rebel-held province of Idlib and the central province of Homs. He did not immediately mention Aleppo.
The activists reported strikes in all three places. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said missiles fired from Russian warships in the Mediterranean have struck areas in Aleppo and Idlib provinces. The Observatory said airstrikes also struck three neighborhoods in Aleppo city, but had no immediate word on casualties.
Meanwhile, three hospitals in rebel-held areas of northern Syria have been hit by air raids in the past 24 hours, leaving medical staff and patients wounded, the monitor added. It said it could not immediately determine whether the strikes in Aleppo province were carried out by Russian or Syrian government aircraft.