HEMEIMEEM AIR BASE, Syria (AP) - The Russian military said Friday it has downed dozens of drones and rockets launched by militants this year targeting Russia’s air base in Syria.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said that so far in 2019 the military has shot down 58 drones and 27 rockets that targeted the Hemeimeem air base in Syria’s Mediterranean province of Latakia.
Russia has waged a military campaign in Syria since September 2015, allowing Bashar Assad’s government to reclaim control over most of the country amid a devastating civil war.
Konashenkov, speaking to reporters during a trip to Syria organized by the ministry, said the militants have continuously improved their drones, which have a range of up to 250 kilometers (155 miles) and an altitude of up to 4 kilometers (13,123 feet).
He added that while the drones may look primitive, they perform well and are difficult to spot.
“It’s quite worrying that the terrorists have obtained the navigation and control technologies that only a few countries possess,” Konashenkov said.
He said the Russian base is protected by a variety of air defense assets. He said short- and medium-range Pantsyr S-1 and Tor M-2 air defense systems have proven highly efficient against the drones, and the base also has the long-range S-400 air defense systems.
Konashenkov said that most of the drone attacks were launched from Khan Sheikhoun and Latamna in the northwestern province of Idlib. The Syrian army captured those areas last month following weeks of a sweeping offensive backed by Russia.
Idlib, which lies along the border with Turkey, is the last major rebel stronghold, and the Syrian army onslaught has created friction between Russia and Turkey, which struck a de-escalation agreement for Idlib a year ago. Turkey protested the offensive as a violation of the deal, while Russia countered that the offensive was necessary to uproot militants who used the area as a base to launch attacks on Syrian government troops and Russia’s military base.
More than eight years of fighting has left the country in ruins, and officials in the areas reclaimed by the government are pleading for international assistance.
“We have suffered twice - first from the rebels who deliberately destroyed historic monuments and now from the indifference of international organizations that refuse to help us,” said Adnan Karaza, an official who oversees the historic Old City of Aleppo. “We haven’t received a penny.”
Many sections of the ancient city were destroyed in years of vicious fighting until Assad’s forces captured the rebel-held eastern part of Aleppo three years ago. A giant portrait of Assad decorates the gates of the monumental medieval Citadel, the city’s top landmark.
Assad’s government has paid for the restoration of a section of the city’s medieval market, but there is no money to do the rest of the job.
“We wouldn’t like to think that the world doesn’t care about centuries of history,” said Waleed Hawala, a 72-year-old professor of history at Aleppo’s university who volunteered to help clear the Old City of debris together with his students. “But so far we have been doing all the restoration work ourselves.”
Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.
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