Rus­sia un­leashes a blitz of new airstrikes on Syria

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Bassem Mroue and Vladimir Isachenkov

BEIRUT — Rus­sia launched new strikes in Syria on Tues­day in­volv­ing car­rier-borne jets and lon­grange mis­siles as op­po­si­tion ac­tivists on the ground re­ported that the first airstrikes in nearly a month struck the be­sieged, re­bel­held parts of the north­ern Syr­ian city of Aleppo.

Ac­cord­ing to ac­tivists, be­tween four and 10 peo­ple were killed in the strikes on Aleppo, rais­ing con­cerns of a re­turn to daily deadly bom­bard­ment in Syria’s largest city.

The Rus­sian blitz be­gan hours af­ter Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and U.S. 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.”

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has been try­ing to ne­go­ti­ate a cease-fire in Aleppo, a city that has be­come the epi­cen­ter of the war be­tween Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad and rebels fight­ing to top­ple him, some of whom re­ceive U.S. aid. From the mil­i­tants’ side, al-Qaida’s Syr­ian af­fil­i­ate is fight­ing along­side the rebels, but the Is­lamic State group has no pres­ence in Aleppo city.

Rus­sian De­fense Min­is­ter Sergei Shoigu re­ported to Putin that Su-33 jets from the air­craft car­rier Ad­mi­ral Kuznetsov are in­volved in the op­er­a­tion, mark­ing its com­bat de­but.

“We launched a ma­jor op­er­a­tion to strike the po­si­tions of the Is­lamic State and Jab­hat al-Nusra in the prov­inces of Idlib and Homs,” Shoigu said at a meet­ing with Putin, re­fer­ring to the al-Qaida’s branch in Syria by its old name. He said the airstrikes are tar­get­ing am­mu­ni­tion de­pots, train­ing camps and ar­ma­ments fac­to­ries.

As part of the Rus­sian op­er­a­tion, a navy frigate launched long-range Kal­ibr cruise mis­siles and the mil­i­tary also used Bas­tion mis­siles sta­tioned in Syria to strike mil­i­tant tar­gets in the rebel-held north­ern prov­ince of Idlib and the cen­tral prov­ince of Homs.

Shoigu said that be­fore launch­ing the strikes, the mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence had thor­oughly iden­ti­fied and se­lected tar­gets, in­clud­ing fac­to­ries pro­duc­ing toxic chem­i­cal agents.

“It’s a well-de­vel­oped, in­dus­trial-scale pro­duc­tion,” he said, adding that the strikes will con­tinue. He did not men­tion Aleppo.

Mean­while, Syr­ian ac­tivists re­ported strikes in Aleppo, Homs and Idlib.

The Bri­tain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said mis­siles fired from Rus­sian war­ships in the Mediter­ranean struck ar­eas in Aleppo prov­ince and on the east­ern edge of nearby Idlib. The Ob­ser­va­tory’s chief, Rami Ab­dul­rah­man, said the ar­eas hit with mis­siles are strongholds of ji­hadi groups, in­clud­ing the al-Qaida af­fil­i­ate known as Jab­hat Fatah al-Sham Front.

The Ob­ser­va­tory and other groups said airstrikes also struck at least eight neigh­bor­hoods in Aleppo city, killing at least 10 peo­ple. The Lo­cal Co­or­di­na­tion Com­mit­tees, an­other ac­tivist group, said the airstrikes on Aleppo killed four and wounded oth­ers.

KARAM AL-MASRI/GETTY-AFP

Syr­ian fam­i­lies re­ceive aid pack­ages Tues­day in Aleppo. New Rus­sian at­tacks raise con­cerns of a re­turn to daily bom­bard­ments. Homs and Idlib also were hit, ac­tivists say.

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