- Associated Press - Monday, February 20, 2017

BEIRUT (AP) - Four Russian servicemen were killed last week in Syria when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb, the Russian military said Monday, raising the total Russian combat casualties so far in Syria’s war to 27.

The four died when they were travelling as part of a Syrian military convoy to the central city of Homs on Thursday from the Tiyas air base, which is close to the ancient town of Palmyra held by the Islamic State group.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the bomb was detonated by remote control. Two other servicemen were wounded in the blast.

Palmyra, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) away, is one of the focal points of the battle against the extremist group. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but blame is likely to fall on IS.

Moscow launched its military operations in support of President Bashar Assad’s forces in September 2015. The Russian military has touted its air power as the backbone of its intervention, but its technicians, military advisers, and police forces have helped to clear and secure territory as well.

Russian media estimate that more than 4,000 servicemen have been deployed in Syria based on voter rolls from Russia’s September 2016 parliamentary elections.

The Islamic State group overran Palmyra, prized for its ancient Roman archaeological ruins, for a second time last December. The front between the government and Palmyra is now about 16 kilometers (10 miles) west of the town, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.

On Monday, pro-government forces in Syria bombarded two neighborhoods around the capital, Damascus, wounding 10 people, activists said.

The Syrian Civil Defense first responders, also known as the White Helmets, released a video showing its volunteers trying to rescue a girl from under the rubble of a collapsed building after an airstrike on the Tishreen neighborhood.

The Observatory said the al-Qaboun neighborhood was targeted as well.


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