Syria conflict: Russia has 'positioned tanks in airfield' according to US officials

Russia is a key ally to Syria

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The Independent Online

Russia has positioned tanks at an airfield in Syria in what appears to be a continued show of support by the Kremlin for President Bashar Al-Assad, according to US officials.

At least seven Russia T-90 tanks were seen at the airfield near the government stronghold of Latakia, a US official from the State Department told Reuters.

Responding to the reports, State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters: “It certainly appears as though ... they are continuing to support - and perhaps even with additional assets - the Assad regime.”

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The northern city of Latakia, some 350 km northwest of Damascus, is a stronghold for President Bashar Al-Assad

Washington has said that the movement on the ground in Syria appears to indicate that Russia intends to create a forward air operating base at the airfield in the port city which has been at the centre of a recent Russian military build-up in Syria.

However, the Syrian Ambassador to Russia has rejected the claims as "a lie" spread by the US.

"We have been cooperating with Russia for 30-40 years in various areas, including the military sphere. Yes, we receive arms, military equipment, all this is done in line with agreements sealed between our countries," Riad Haddad was quoted as saying by the ITAR-TASS news agency.

He went on to say that he wanted to continue consultations between Syrian leaders and opposition representatives ahead of more UN peace talks.

Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for the Krelmin, declined to comment on the situation at the airfield.

 

The reports come after Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov admitted that "experts" had accompanied military supplies on the ground in Syria.

"There were military supplies, they are ongoing and they will continue. They are inevitably accompanied by Russian specialists, who help to adjust the equipment, to train Syrian personnel how to use these weaponry," Mr Lavrov said.

However, the Kremlin has not confirmed that it has increased its military presence or supplied the Syria government with more arms.

If proven, the latest movements are part of a long-held relationship between Russia and Syria, which has seen the latter provide arms since Soviet times and stand beside Mr Assad in a civil war over which he has been accused of war crimes against his own citizens.

The bloody conflict is believed to have killed more than 140,000 people, and has caused refugees to flee the country and seek security in bordering nations, as well as in Europe.

The US has responded to the expansion of the extremist group Isis in Syria by carrying out airstrikes with a coalition of nations.

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