The Latest: Russia denies losing helicopters at Syrian base

AP News
Posted: May 24, 2016 10:10 AM
The Latest: Russia denies losing helicopters at Syrian base

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the violence in Syria a day after deadly attacks claimed by the Islamic State group targeted government strongholds (all times local):

5 p.m.

The Russian military has denied a claim by the Islamic State group that it has destroyed several Russian helicopter gunships and other equipment at a base in Syria.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, said Tuesday that all Russian helicopters deployed to Syria "are performing their planned missions to destroy terrorists." He rejected the IS claim of destroying four Russian helicopters and 20 trucks at the Diyas air base near the ancient town of Palmyra as "propaganda."

Konashenkov said in a statement that satellite images showing burned shells of helicopters and trucks at the Diyas air base reflect the damage from months of clashes in the area between Syrian government forces and militants. The images were released Tuesday by the U.S. global intelligence think tank Stratfor.


4:45 p.m.

The spokesman for the predominantly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces says the U.S.-backed group has launched its campaign to expel the Islamic State group from Raqqa, the extremists' de facto capital in northern Syria.

Talal Sillo says the present goal is to "liberate" the countryside north of Raqqa, without setting a date for the offensive to capture the city itself.

The announcement follows a meeting between a top U.S. commander and SDF officials in Kurdish-held northern Syria, Saturday. Sillo says the U.S.-led coalition against the IS group is providing air support for the campaign.

A monitoring group inside IS territory that goes by the name Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently reports air strikes on IS positions north of Raqqa. It says intense ground fighting has erupted around the village of Heisha.


4 p.m.

Residents and media activists say funerals are being held for victims of multiple bombings that hit two government strongholds in Syria.

Gunfire could be heard Tuesday in the city of Tartus as the funerals got underway. Shooting in the air is a traditional sign of mourning in parts of the Middle East.

The victims being buried Tuesday include three children from the Hammouda family, killed in the town of Jableh on Syria's Mediterranean coast.

A series of explosions ripped through civilian targets in Jableh as well as the coastal city of Tartus Monday, killing more than a hundred people, most of them civilians.

The attacks were the most serious breach of President Bashar Assad's coastal strongholds in the five-year-old Syrian civil war.


1:10 p.m.

The Russian military says it has called for a 72-hour cease-fire in Syria between government and opposition forces in two Damascus suburbs.

In a statement issued late Monday, Lt. Gen. Sergei Kuralenko says this would allow Russian war planes to carry out airstrikes against the Nusra Front, the Syrian branch of al-Qaida.

Kuralenko, who heads the Russian center monitoring joint efforts with the United States to curb the fighting, says the Russians have called for a "regime of silence" in Eastern Ghouta and Darayya starting at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.

He says Moscow urges "all parties concerned to stop offensive operations and shooting and to distance themselves from the regions controlled by" the al-Qaida affiliate in Syria.


11:00 a.m.

The World Health Organization says a suicide attack at a hospital in Syria's coastal city of Jableh the previous day has killed 43 people.

WHO says most of those killed were patients and their visiting family members but there were also three doctors and nurses killed in Monday's attack. The organization says the hospital is no longer working.

The bombing was part of a coordinated wave of attacks claimed by the Islamic State group in Jableh and the city of Tartus, government strongholds that have so far remained mostly immune to the violence of Syria's civil war, now in its sixth year.

Government officials have said that at least 80 died in Monday's devastating assaults, while the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Tuesday that 154 had died.