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Russia says air force hit Palmyra region in Syria

MOSCOW: Russia’s air force has struck the area around the Islamic State-held ancient city of Palmyra, the defence ministry said Monday, as Moscow pressed on with its bombing campaign in Syria.

“Su-25 jets hit a fortified IS position in the Tadmur area of Homs province,” Moscow’s defence ministry said in a statement, using the Arabic name for Palmyra.

“As a result of a direct strike, a fortification, an underground bunker and anti-aircraft artillery were destroyed.”

It appeared to be the first time that Russia has confirmed a strike close to the UNESCO World Heritage site, after Moscow denied Syrian state television claims that it hit the ancient city in early October.

Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, also said that Russian planes had targeted Palmyra with strikes on Monday.

He said several strikes hit the city’s historic citadel, but had no further details.

Khaled al-Homsi, an activist from Palmyra, also reported Russian strikes on the citadel on the western edges of the historical site.

“The extent of the damage could not be verified,” he told AFP.

Elsewhere in Homs province, the Observatory said at least 10 people had been killed and more wounded in apparent Russian strikes on Al-Qaryatain, an IS-held town.

Russia did not specify when the strikes on Palmyra took place, but said its jets struck over 237 targets in Syria over the past two days in a statement Monday.

Russian warplanes pounded sites belonging to the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front “terrorist groups” in the Homs, Hama, Latakia, Damascus, Aleppo and Raqa provinces, Moscow said in a statement.

In Aleppo province, Moscow said it hit a training camp for foreign fighters and an improvised explosive device production plant, and destroyed two armoured vehicles in Hama province.

Russia’s military said it also struck a key Al-Nusra Front command post on a strategic hill in the coastal Latakia region.

The latest raids came after broad international talks to end the conflict were held on Friday in Vienna.

For the first time, the meeting brought together all the main outside players in the crisis, including Russia and Iran, key allies of the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Participants agreed to ask the United Nations to broker a peace deal between the regime and opposition — which were not represented at the talks — to clear the way for a new constitution and UN-supervised elections.

Russia has been bombing in Syria since the end of September to help troops loyal to Assad fight what it calls “terrorists”.

The US and its allies in a separate coalition bombing IS say that Moscow is mainly targeting more moderate groups fighting Assad.

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