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Russia materiel lands in Syria

September 13, 2015

Russian military cargo aircraft have landed in the coastal city of Latakia, Syria's state news agency has said. Concerns are mounting over Russian military backing of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Syrien Russische Flugzeuge in Latakia gelandet ARCHIV
Image: picture-alliance/RIA Novosti/A. Kudenko

Syrian state media said Saturday two Russian planes carrying 80 tons (72.6 metric tons) of humanitarian aid arrived in the coastal city of Latakia.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Saturday the humanitarian aid included materials for setting up a tent camp, including beds, mattresses, stoves, water cisterns and food for more than 1,000 displaced persons inside Syria.

But the Kremlin admits that more than camping gear was offloaded from the military planes.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has confirmed that Russia is airlifting weapons to Syria, a longtime ally, and Russian troops are training the Syrian army.

EU diplomats say they are concerned that Russian military support for Assad would counter any incentives to consider a political solution in the civil war. The opposition Syrian National Coalition condemned what it called "direct Russian military intervention" in the conflict.

US says backing Assad 'big mistake'

Syrien Sergej Lawrow und Bashar Assad in Damaskus
Syrian President Bashar Assad hosting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Damascus in 2012. Syria has long been Russia's key ally in the Mideast.Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Stringer/Ap/Pool

US President Barack Obama also said Friday that Russia's escalated military involvement in Syria indicates Assad is worried and turning to Russia for help.

"The strategy that they are pursuing right now, doubling down on Assad, I think is a big mistake," Obama said.

Moscow has been a longtime backer of Syria's government, and it has supported Syrian President Bashar Assad throughout the civil war by shielding him from UN sanctions and providing weapons.

Meanwhile, Russia has issued an alert for Cyprus to divert flight paths as it plans to conduct military exercises off the coast of Syria next week.

Reports in Moscow said Russia had sent NOTAMs (Notice to Airmen) to the US Federal Aviation Administration about the exercises between the Syrian port of Tartus and Cyprus, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) away.

A copy of the NOTAMs on the FAA website gave the coordinates for what it said were a "Russian navy exercise" including "rocket test firings" between September 8 and 15.

Officials in Washington say Russia has sent ships, armored personnel carriers and naval infantry to the country in recent weeks.

jar/bw (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)

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