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Russia says its strike in Syria killed 30 Al Qaeda fighters

By AP - Nov 17,2016 - Last updated at Nov 17,2016

Men are photographed next to damaged buildings at a site hit Wednesday by air strikes in the rebel held Al Shaar neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria, on Thursday (Reuters photo)

MOSCOW — A Russian air strike in northern Syria this week killed at least 30 members of an Al Qaeda-linked group, including some of its leaders, the Russian military said on Thursday.

The statement comes amid a new wave on air strikes in the war-torn country, with the besieged rebel-held part of the city of Aleppo facing its third consecutive day of heavy bombardment by Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces.

The Russians, who announced the new offensive in Syria this week, have denied bombing the rebel enclave. At least 59 people were killed across northern Syria in the first two days of the offensive, including besieged neighbourhoods of Aleppo, as well as the surrounding countryside and the nearby rebel-held province of Idlib.

Russian Defence Ministry Spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said the strike targeting Al Qaeda took place in Idlib on Tuesday. It was launched from Russia's aircraft carrier, which has been deployed to the Mediterranean, and hit the Al Qaeda-linked militant group now known as Fatah Al Sham Front, he said.

The strike marked the combat debut of the Admiral Kuznetsov, Russia's only aircraft carrier. According to Russian intelligence reports, it was confirmed that three prominent leaders of the Al Qaeda-linked group — Muhammad Helala, Abu Jaber Harmuja and Abul Baha Al Asfari — were among those killed, Konashenkov added. He said Al Asfari had overseen the group's attempts to break the siege of Aleppo.

Russia has said its air raids and missile strikes have only been targeting Idlib province and the central province of Homs to root out militants of the Daesh group and the Al Qaeda-linked group.

Meanwhile, Syrian warplanes have been pounding rebel-held districts of Aleppo, home to nearly 275,000 people.

On Wednesday, bombs hit an Aleppo district that houses several medical facilities, including the central blood bank, and forced Syrian staff and patients in the only remaining paediatric hospital to cower in a basement as buildings collapsed around them.

The Russia-declared offensive came hours after President Vladimir Putin and US President-elect Donald Trump discussed Syria in a phone call, and agreed on the need to combine efforts in the fight against what the Kremlin called their No. 1 enemy — "international terrorism and extremism”.

 Months of negotiations between Moscow and President Barack Obama's administration have failed to cement a long-term ceasefire in Aleppo, which has become the focus of the war between Assad and rebels fighting to topple him.

 

Al Qaeda's Syrian affiliate is fighting alongside the rebels, but the Daesh group has no presence in Aleppo.

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