Syrian army bombards Islamic State using Russian aircraft

West alarmed as Moscow increases military support for president Bashar al-Assad

Residents inspect a site damaged by what activists said was an airstrike by forces loyal to Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad. Photograph: Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters

Residents inspect a site damaged by what activists said was an airstrike by forces loyal to Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad. Photograph: Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters

 

Syrian government forces used newly delivered Russian warplanes to bombard Islamic State insurgents in Aleppo province in northern Syria, a group monitoring the civil war said yesterday, in an attempt to break a siege on a nearby air base.

Russia is bolstering its ally Damascus against rebels with military aid that US officials say has included fighter jets, helicopter gunships, artillery and ground forces.

The air strikes, which began earlier this week, were accompanied by ground attacks near the Kweiris air base in the east of Aleppo province, where government troops have long been surrounded by Islamist militants, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Russian jets arrived only “recently” in Syria but were being flown by Syrian pilots, said the observatory, which tracks Syria’s conflict via a network of sources on the ground.

Many western countries have reacted with alarm to Moscow’s increased military support for president Bashar al-Assad, whom they oppose. But the rise of a common enemy, Islamic State, has rendered divisions less clear.

The United States is waging its own aerial campaign against the militants in Syria and Iraq. Stronger Russian involvement in Syria means that forces of the former cold war foes could encounter each other as they battle the same enemy.

Russia says Mr Assad, its closest Middle East ally, should be part of international efforts to fight Islamic State, while the US believes he is part of the problem. – (Reuters)