Russia downs two drones near Syrian air base

Russia downs two drones near Syrian air base
2 min read
13 August, 2018
Russia's defence ministry said it shot down two 'unmanned aerial vehicles' that were believed to be launched by rebels in Idlib's de-escalation zone on Sunday.
The drones were shot down near Russia's Hmeimim air base in Syria [Getty]
Two drones launched by rebels in Syria were shot down by Russian forces near the Hmeimim base, the Russian defence ministry announced on Sunday evening.

The drones were dispatched by fighters operating in the de-escalation zone in Idlib, Russian media reported.

"During the past day, radars of the Russian airbase at Hmeimim spotted two unmanned aerial vehicles launched from the Idlib de-escalation zone controlled by illegal armed groups," chief of the Russia Centre for Reconciliation of the Opposing Parties Alexei Tsygankov said on Sunday.

"The airbase's missile defence systems downed these air targets at a safe distance from the base. No one was hurt, no material damage was done. The Russian airbase is operating routinely," he said.

Idlib is the last of four "de-escalation" zones agreed by world powers in 2017 where the rebels still have a major presence. 

The downing of the drones came as a blast at a weapons depot in the rebel-held northwest Syria killed at least 39 civilians, including a dozen children, on Sunday.

The explosion caused two buildings - located in Sarmada in Idlib province - to collapse. Rescue workers were seen using a bulldozer to remove rubble and extract trapped people, an AFP correspondent reported.

Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor, said the prior toll of 12 civilians went up after more bodies were retrieved from the rubble.

He said the cause of the blast was "not yet clear".

Abdel Rahman said that most of those killed were family members of fighters from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a group with links to al-Qaeda, who had been displaced to the area from the central province of Homs.

Most of Idlib is controlled by rebels and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, but the Islamic State group also has sleeper cells in the area and have targeted opposition forces.

The regime holds a small slither of southeastern Idlib.

In recent days, regime forces have ramped up their deadly bombardment of southern Idlib and sent reinforcements to nearby areas they control.

President Bashar al-Assad has warned that his forces intend to retake Idlib, after his Russia-backed regime regained control of swathes of rebel-held territory elsewhere.

In May, the UN warned that an assault on Idlib could be six times more destructive than that witnessed in Eastern Ghouta.

The war in Syria has killed more than 500,000 people since it began in 2011 with a brutal regime crackdown on protesters.

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