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Russian Warplanes Sit Idle During Syria Ceasefire
International

Russian Warplanes Sit Idle During Syria Ceasefire

Dozens of Russian warplanes sat idle on Tuesday on the tarmac at this Russian airbase in Syria on the fourth day of a ceasefire brokered by Moscow and Washington.
The apparent lull in action witnessed by the AP on a trip to the base, which was organized by the Russian defense and foreign ministries, contrasts with the hectic operation witnessed here on a previous visit in January.
The ceasefire that began at midnight on Friday has brought a notable reduction in hostilities for the first time in the five-year war that has killed more than 250,000 people, displaced half of Syria’s population and flooded Europe with refugees, AP reported.
But the truce has remained highly fragile with violations reported in many areas with the opposition and the Syrian government blaming each other.
The Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra or the Nusra Front as it is also known, are excluded from the truce.
The Russian military said on Monday that its warplanes struck Nusra targets north of Aleppo. It also said groups that have declared their adherence to the ceasefire are not being targeted.
During the five-month Russian air blitz that began on Sept. 30, each jet flew several combat sorties on an average day, amounting to an impressive total of more than 6,000 missions.
The Russian Defense Ministry said late Monday that the ceasefire was largely holding despite sporadic violations. Lt. Gen. Sergei Kuralenko, who heads the ceasefire coordination center at the Russian base in Syria, expressed satisfaction with what he described as a good level of coordination with his US counterparts in Amman, Jordan.
Russia and the US have agreed to exchange information about opposition groups abiding by the truce and jointly tackle any possible violations. The ceasefire’s success is seen as essential for resuming peace efforts.
The Hemeimeem airbase is located in the coastal province of Latakia at a safe distance from the frontlines. Still, the base’s personnel maintain the usual strict security routine, with soldiers armed with assault rifles deployed around its facilities and helicopter gunships buzzing the perimeter to spot any possible threats.
Massive S-400 air defense missiles stand towering over the middle of the field, a message to Turkey, which downed a Russian jet at the Syrian border in November.
Putin ordered the long-range S-400s, capable of striking aerial targets 400 km away, deployed to the base in response. The Russian military has warned it will destroy any target that threatens its warplanes.
The ceasefire deal has reduced the threat of a possible showdown between Russia and Turkey. Ankara was upset by an offensive by Syrian Kurdish forces north of Aleppo and was mulling possible military action in Syria.

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