Rus­sia says rebel at­tack­ers killed

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - WORLD NEWS - VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV

MOSCOW — The Rus­sian mil­i­tary said Fri­day it has elim­i­nated a group of rebels that had at­tacked Rus­sia’s air base in Syria.

The Rus­sian De­fence Min­istry said it tracked down the rebels with drones and other in­tel­li­gence as­sets and struck them with ar­tillery while they were get­ting into a minibus in the north­west­ern prov­ince of Idlib.

It said in a state­ment that the Rus­sian mil­i­tary also de­stroyed a rebel fa­cil­ity for assem­bling drones in Idlib.

The mor­tar shelling of the He­meimeem air base killed two Rus­sian ser­vice­men on New Year’s eve, ac­cord­ing to the De­fence Min­istry. It said that war­planes weren’t hit, but the Rus­sian busi­ness daily Kom­m­er­sant re­ported that seven air­craft were dam­aged be­yond re­pair.

Last week­end, rebels also launched a drone at­tack on He­meimeem and a Rus­sian naval base in Tar­tus, which was re­pelled by the Rus­sian mil­i­tary. The raid in­volv­ing 13 drones was the first such at­tack since Rus­sian launched its cam­paign in Syria in Septem­ber 2015.

The mor­tar shelling and the drone at­tack came just weeks af­ter Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin de­clared a vic­tory in Syria and or­dered a par­tial troop pull­out from the coun­try.

The De­fence Min­istry said the drones were launched from al-Mouaz­zara in Idlib, over 50 km away from the Rus­sian bases. The prov­ince has be­come the key ral­ly­ing point for var­i­ous rebel fac­tions af­ter Syr­ian govern­ment forces re­claimed con­trol over large swathes of ter­ri­tory thanks to Rus­sian air cover.

The drone at­tack height­ened ten­sions be­tween Rus­sia and Tur­key, which wields sig­nif­i­cant in­flu­ence with rebel groups in Idlib.

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin dis­cussed the is­sue Thurs­day with Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan and said af­ter the call that he’s con­vinced that Tur­key’s lead­er­ship had noth­ing to do with the at­tack. He blamed forces he wouldn’t iden­tify for stag­ing the at­tack in or­der to de­rail the agree­ment on deesca­la­tion zones.

“We know who they were and how much they paid for that provo­ca­tion,” Putin said.

The De­fence Min­istry has ear­lier re­ferred to the “strange co­in­ci­dence” of a U.S. mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence plane al­legedly bar­rag­ing over the Mediter­ranean near the Rus­sian bases when the at­tack took place.

The U.S. de­nied any in­volve­ment.

DELIL SOULEIMAN/GETTY IM­AGES

A Syr­ian fam­ily cooks a meal amidst the rub­ble in Raqqa, the for­mer cap­i­tal of Is­lamic State in Syria, on Fri­day.

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