Russia has no information about reported Russian deaths in Syria
The three Russians were allegedly killed Tuesday when a shell hit their position in Latakia, a senior pro-government source said
The Russian embassy in Damascus said on Tuesday it had no information about reports that three Russians had been killed fighting alongside Syrian government forces.
“There is no information about the alleged ‘deaths of three Russians’ or ‘three Russian servicemen’ in Syria, as reported by Reuters,” RIA news agency quoted the embassy as saying.
The three Russians were killed when a shell hit their position in Latakia, Reuters reported a senior pro-government military source as saying.
If confirmed, the deaths which occurred on Monday night would be the first known incident of Russians killed in Syria since Moscow began air strikes in support of President Bashar al-Assad on Sep. 30.
Syrian officials could not be reached for comment. Russia’s defense ministry did not respond to requests for comment.
However, Rami Abdulrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict, told Reuters that his sources in the area had confirmed the deaths of Russians, but did not have a figure. He said he believed they were not regular Russian forces but volunteers.
The pro-government source, who is familiar with military events in Syria, said that at least 20 Russians were at the post in the Nabi Younis area when the shell struck.
Moscow repeatedly stated there are no Russian troops on ground, but said there are trainers and advisors working alongside the Syrian military, and forces guarding Russia’s bases in western Syria.
The Kremlin also said it is not undertaking any steps to recruit and deploy volunteer fighters.
Top Syrian rebel commander killed
Meanwhile, Russian air strikes in Latakia killed a top rebel commander from a group armed by Assad’s foreign enemies, the Observatory said on Tuesday.
The Observatory said 45 people - both rebel fighters and civilians - were killed in the air strikes on Monday evening in the Jabal Akrad area, which is held by the First Coastal Division rebel group.
The group, which fights under the banner of a loose alliance of factions known as the “Free Syrian Army”, confirmed the death of its chief of staff, Basil Zamo, formerly a captain in the Syrian military.
The First Coastal Division is one of several groups that have received foreign military support under a program supported by the United States, including U.S.-made anti-tank missiles, the most potent weapon in the rebels’ arsenal.
In some cases the support has included military training by the Central Intelligence Agency. Assad’s main foreign foes include Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.
The commander of another such group, the Nour al Din al-Zinki Brigades, was killed in fighting south of Aleppo on Monday.
These groups, often led by officers who defected from the Syrian army after the uprising against President Assad erupted in 2011, have been widely eclipsed by jihadist groups such as the Nusra Front and ISIS.
The Syrian army backed by fighters from Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah have launched a series of ground offensives against insurgent-held areas of western and northwestern Syria since Russia began air strikes in the country on Sept. 30.
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