Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu says Russia has started establishing a permanent presence at its two military bases in Syria -- the Russian naval facility in Tartus and the Russian-run Khmeimim air base near the city of Latakia.
Shoigu said on December 26 that Russian President Vladimir Putin had "approved the structure and staff of the principal bases" the previous week and that Russia had "started forming a permanent group of forces there."
Meanwhile, Russia’s Federation Council on December 26 approved a law ratifying an agreement between Moscow and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government about Russian forces at the naval base in Tartus.
That agreement was signed in Damascus on January 18.
It allows for the Russian Navy to expand its technical support and logistics base. It also enables visits of Russian ships in Syria’s territorial waters, internal waters, and ports.
The agreement has been in temporary effect since it was signed. It remains valid for 49 years with possible 25-year extensions.
Syrian Forces Capture Rebel-Held Areas
In other Syria news, government forces have captured areas close to a rebel-held enclave near the border area with Israel and Lebanon.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on December 25 that government forces had surrounded the town of Beit Jin and nearby areas after a major offensive.
The monitoring group said negotiations were underway to evacuate opposition fighters to the rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib.
Syrian forces and allied groups are fighting hundreds of Sunni militants and mainstream Free Syria Army (FSA) rebels closing ranks under the banner of Itihad Quwt Jabal al Sheikh, or "Union of fighters of Jabal al Sheikh."
The group is believed to be mainly composed of local fighters from the area.
The enclave is the last rebel bastion left in an area southwest of Damascus known as the Western Ghouta.
Israel has been concerned about the drive by Syrian forces and their Iran-backed allies close to its border.
In recent weeks Israeli forces have stepped up their strikes against suspected Iranian targets inside Syria.
Based on reporting by AP and Reuters