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Russia Says Two Soldiers Killed In Mortar Attack In Syria


Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses Russian troops as he visits the Hmeimim military base on December 11.
Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses Russian troops as he visits the Hmeimim military base on December 11.

The Russian Defense Ministry says two of its soldiers were killed in a mortar attack by antigovernment forces in Syria on New Year's Eve.

"As darkness fell, the Hmeimim air base was subjected to sudden mortar shelling from a mobile group of militants. As a result of the shelling, two servicemen were killed," the ministry said on January 4 in comments carried by Russian news agencies.

It also denied a report by the Kommersant business daily that seven military planes were destroyed in the attack.

Russia’s Hmeimim air base is located in the western Syrian province of Latakia.

Russia has given President Bashar al-Assad's government crucial support throughout Syria’s civil war, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven millions from their homes since it began with a crackdown on pro-democracy protests in 2011.

More than 40 Russian military personnel have died in Syria since Moscow launched a campaign of air strikes in September 2015, in many cases using Hmeimim as a base.

On January 3, Russia’s Defense Ministry said that one of its military helicopters crashed in Syria, killing both pilots aboard.

The ministry said the Mil Mi-24 military helicopter crashed due to a “technical malfunction” on December 31 while it was flying to the Hama Military Air Base in Hama.

Also on January 4, a monitoring group said at least 28 civilians were killed in air strikes in a rebel stronghold near the Syrian capital, Damascus.

Russian warplanes overnight bombarded the town of Misraba in the region of Eastern Ghouta, killing at least 19 civilians, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

It said nine other civilians died in strikes by government jets that targeted the towns of Arbeen and Beit Sawa.

Syrian forces, backed by Russian air power, have recently intensified their attacks on Eastern Ghouta, which has been under siege by Assad's forces for more than four years.

During a visit to the Hmeimim air base on December 11, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared victory over "the most combat-capable international terrorist group" -- a reference to the extremist group Islamic State (IS) -- and announced a partial withdrawal of Russian troops.

Western officials say that the Russian campaign, particularly in its earlier stages, has focused heavily on targeting rebels seeking Assad's ouster rather than IS militants.

Putin said on December 28 that more than 48,000 Russian military personnel have served in the operation in Syria and that Russia's presence at Hmeimim and the Syrian port of Tartus will be "permanent."

On December 29, Putin signed a law ratifying an agreement enabling Russia to expand operations at its naval facility in Tartus.

With reporting by AFP, Interfax, TASS, and Dozhd TV
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