Russia eases up Syria strikes as Assad forces launch ground assault

Russia said Thursday that its jets hit 32 “terrorist” targets in Syria over the past 24 hours, claiming it had eased up its air strikes as allied government forces pushed a ground offensive.

“The intensity of the sorties by our military aviation has slightly decreased in the past day,” Russia’s defence ministry said in a statement.

“This is linked to the fact that the front line with the terrorist groups of ISIL is changing as a result of active offensives by the Syrian armed forces,” the statement said, using another acronym to refer to the Islamic State group.

The number of targets reportedly hit — in Damascus, Idlib, Hama, Deir Ezzor, and Aleppo provinces — was well down on the highest one-day tally of 86 that Moscow claimed its forces had struck on Tuesday.

The Russian military said the latest strikes had destroyed an anti-aircraft missile complex that had fallen into the hands of IS militants near Eastern Ghouta, some 50 kilometres northeast of Damascus.

Strikes in the region around the capital also destroyed a base housing armed vehicles.

Russia’s defence ministry said air strikes in Aleppo province in the north had destroyed an IS command post and an underground bomb-making workshop.

Syrian state television reported Thursday that the army of President Bashar al-Assad had launched an offensive in Homs province, taking control of the village of Al-Dar Al-Kabirah.

The latest Russian strikes destroyed artillery positions in Khan Sheikhun in the Hama province, one of the targets of the Syrian military offensive.

“The militants are retreating, trying to set up new positions and change the logistic system providing them with ammunition, weaponry and materials,” the Russian defence ministry said.

Russia launched a bombing campaign in Syria on September 30 at the request of its longstanding ally Assad that Moscow says is targeting IS and other “terrorist” groups.

The US and its allies carrying out separate air strikes against IS insist Moscow is primarily targeting more moderate rebels fighting Assad.

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