2 Russian troops killed in Syria base attack

Moscow denies Russian media report that 7 planes were destroyed by rebel shelling

MOSCOW: Russia’s Defence Ministry says two of its soldiers were killed in a mortar attack on the Russian airbase in Syria.

The ministry says the attack on the Hemeimeem base took place on Sunday and that it was carried out by a “mobile sabotage group” of fighters.

Yesterday’s reports by the state news agencies Tass and RIA-Novosti did not specify the attackers’ affiliation or say if they were members of a specific rebel or militant group in Syria.

Russian forces also lost a helicopter in a Sunday crash in Syria that killed one of the two pilots. The ministry said a technical fault caused the crash and that the Mi-24 did not come under fire.

Meanwhile, Russia denied a report in daily newspaper Kommersant that seven Russian planes had been destroyed by rebel shelling at Syria’s Hemeimeem airbase on December 31, the TASS news agency yesterday quoted the defence ministry as saying.

At least four Su-24 bombers, two Su-35S fighters and an An-72 transport plane, as well as an ammunition depot, were destroyed by the shelling, Kommersant said on its website, citing two “military-diplomatic” sources.

In the single biggest loss of military hardware for Russia since it launched air strikes in Syria in autumn 2015, more than 10 servicemen were wounded in the attack by “radical Islamists”, the report said.

“The Kommersant report on alleged “actual destruction” of seven Russian war planes at Hemeimeem airbase is fake”, Tass said, citing the ministry. It said the Russian air group in Syria was “combat-ready”.

Earlier, the ministry said a Mi-24 helicopter had crash-landed in Syria on December 31 due to a technical fault and two pilots died.

Russia began establishing a permanent presence at Hemeimeem and a naval base at Tartous last month, although President Vladimir Putin has ordered a “significant” withdrawal of his military from Syria, declaring their work largely done.

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