DAMASCUS – Two Russian servicemen were killed in an attack at Syria’s Hmeimim air base, the country’s defence ministry said on Thursday, bringing the total number of officially reported losses to 44.
“As darkness fell, the Hmeimim air base was subjected to sudden mortar shelling from a mobile group of militants. As a result of the shelling, two servicemen were killed,” the defence ministry said in a statement to Russian agencies.
Meanwhile, Russian daily Kommersant reported at least seven Russian planes were also destroyed by rebel shelling on Dec. 31.
At least four Su-24 bombers, two Su-35S fighters and an An-72 transport plane, as well as an ammunition depot, were destroyed by the shelling, Kommersant said on its website, citing two “military-diplomatic” sources, but the ministry said the report was “fake”.
The news comes a day after the ministry announced a Russian helicopter crash in Syria that killed two pilots following a technical fault, also on December 31.
With four fatalities this is one of the deadliest single days for the Russian army in Syria since it entered the conflict and brings the total number of officially reported losses to 44.
Security around the Hmeimim base was being stepped up after the mortar attack, the defence ministry said.
“The Russian air force in Syria is combat-ready and continues to fulfill all intended tasks,” the statement added.
Last month, Russia began establishing a permanent presence at Hmeymim and a naval base at Tartous although President Vladimir Putin has ordered a “significant” withdrawal of his military from Syria <link>, declaring their work largely done.