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Russia Sends More Warplanes into Battle for Aleppo

FILE -- Russian Su-24 bombers fly during the Victory Day military parade marking 71 years after the victory in WWII in Red Square in Moscow, Russia, Monday, May 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
FILE -- Russian Su-24 bombers fly during the Victory Day military parade marking 71 years after the victory in WWII in Red Square in Moscow, Russia, Monday, May 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

One year after Russia first launched airstrikes in Syria, Moscow reportedly sent more warplanes Friday to a base in northern Syria to back the air forces of President Bashar al-Assad in the battle for Aleppo.

Russia's Izvestia newspaper said a group of Su-24 and Su-34 aircraft had arrived at the Hmeymim base near the coastal city of Latakia and additional Su-25 ground attack fighters would also be deployed "if need be," Reuters reported.

The aircraft deployment came as Assad's ground forces, backed by Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, clashed with rebels in the center of Aleppo, once a city of two million and Syria's commercial hub before the civil war began in 2011.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitoring group, reported heavy bombardment by government forces and "back and forth" fighting in the city.

Stephen O'Brien, the top emergency relief official for the United Nations, told the Security Council Thursday that Aleppo faced a "humanitarian catastrophe unlike any we have witnessed in Syria."

Dr. Richard Brennan, emergency response director for the UN's World Health Organization, said that 338 people, including 100 children, had been killed in Aleppo by Russian and Syrian bombardment in the past week.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov charged that the U.S. was complicit in the carnage in Aleppo by backing rebels holding the eastern sector of the city, where the United Nations estimates that about 250,000 people have been blocked from receiving humanitarian aid convoys.

Lavrov told the BBC that the U.S. had reneged on a pledge to attack the al-Qaida-linked Jabhat Fatah al-Sham group, formerly known as the al-Nusra Front, which has joined more moderate rebel groups in the fight against Assad's forces.

"They (the US) pledged solemnly to take as a priority an obligation to separate the opposition from Nusra," Lavrov said.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner called Lavrov's charges "absurd."

On Thursday, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, said "the whole 'opposition' ostensibly fighting a 'civil war' in Syria is a U.S.-controlled terrorist international."

Three weeks ago, Lavrov and Secretary of State John Kerry negotiated a "cessation of hostilities" that was to lead to U.S.-Russian coordination in attacks on al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

The cease fire collapsed within a week after U.S. and coalition mistakenly bombed what were reportedly Syrian government forces in eastern Syria and Russian and Syrian aircraft were blamed for bombing a UN aid convoy headed to Aleppo.

Russia began bombing and sending artillery and anti-aircraft batteries into Syria last Sept. 30 to prop up Assad. "Of course, we're not going to plunge into the conflict," Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the time.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com.

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