Toronto Star

Russia implies U.S. behind Syria drone strikes

Kremlin says attack required satellite navigation technology


MOSCOW— Russia said Tuesday that a recent series of drone attacks on its military bases in Syria would have required assistance from a country possessing satellite navigation technology — a statement that appeared to be aimed at the United States.

Russia’s Defence Ministry said its forces repelled a series of drone attacks Saturday on the Hemeimeem airbase and a naval facility in Tartus, adding that out of the 13 drones involved, seven were shot down and six were forced to land without inflicting any damage.

Without blaming any specific country, the ministry said data for the attacks could only have been obtained “from one of the countries that possesses know-how in satellite navigation.”

In Tuesday’s statement, it noted a “strange coincidenc­e” of a U.S. military intelligen­ce plane flying over the Mediterran­ean near the two Russian bases at the moment of the attack.

The U.S. and Russia support opposing sides of the Syrian civil war.

Russian President Vladimir Putin declared victory in Syria last month and ordered a partial troops pullout, and the Kremlin said late Monday that the number of Russian troops left in Syria is sufficient for fending off any attacks by militants.

Asked Tuesday whether the withdrawal could have been premature in view of the drone attack, Putin’s spokespers­on Dmitry Peskov said the Russian forces in Syria have “all the necessary means” to counter any challenge.

Syria’s President Bashar Assad has recovered major territory from rebels in Syria in the past two years, largely because of Russia’s military support. His forces are currently battling rebels on two fronts, in the northweste­rn Idlib province and in the eastern suburbs of Damascus.

Opposition activists have reported airstrikes and shelling of rebel-held Damascus suburbs that killed and wounded dozens. The Britain-based Syrian Observator­y for Human Rights said warplanes attacked several suburbs of Damascus, including Saqba, where a man and a child were killed and 13 others were wounded.

The Observator­y and the Syrian Civil Defence, first responders known as the White Helmets, reported airstrikes on other suburbs, including Harasta and Douma.

Syria’s state news agency SANA said rebel shelling of the capital Tuesday killed five people and wounded 30. SANA said 15 shells struck the central, predominan­tly Christian neighbourh­ood of Bab Touma. The capital has been shelled on a near-daily basis in recent weeks.

Turkey’s foreign minister accused Syrian government forces of attacking moderate opposition fighters under the guise of fighting extremists. Mevlut Cavusoglu’s comments came a day after Syrian government forces captured 14 villages as they advanced on Idlib, the largest rebelheld enclave in the country’s north, amid a wave of airstrikes. The troops aim to reach a rebel-held airbase and secure the road linking the capital, Damascus, with the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest.

The UN humanitari­an chief arrived in Damascus Tuesday to assess the humanitari­an situation and discuss with government officials ways of improving access and aid delivery.

Mark Lowcock’s visit is the first by the head of the UN’s humanitari­an agency since December 2015.

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