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Russia bombs Syrian rebels from Iran base for first time

Washington says deployment from Iran to bomb IS and Nusra Front targets in northern Syria is 'unfortunate but not surprising'
A Tu-22M3 over Deir Ezzor in a picture released by Russia on 14 August (Reuters)

Russia has deployed long-range bombers to an air base in the Iranian city of Hamadan to carry out air strikes against militants in Syria, the Russian government said on Tuesday.

It is thought to be the first time Iran has allowed a foreign power to carry out military operations from its territory since the Islamic revolution of 1979. 

"On 16 August, Tu-22M3 long-range bombers and Su-34 frontline bombers, flying with a full bomb load from the Hamadan air base (Islamic Republic of Iran), conducted a group air strike against targets of the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist groups in the provinces of Aleppo, Deir Ezzor and Idlib," a defence ministry statement said.

The statement said the raids eliminated five major "terrorist weapons depots" and training compounds in the area as well as three command posts and a "large number of terrorists".

Responding to the statement, Washington said the development was "unfortunate but not surprising".

US Secretary of State John Kerry has discussed the raids with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said at a press conference on Tuesday.

The US is also exploring whether the raids could represent a violation of UN Resolution 2231, the historic deal struck last year between Iran and major world powers to ease sanctions in return for curbs on Iran's nuclear activities.

The raids are the first Russia has reported carrying out from a base in Iran since Moscow launched its Syrian bombing campaign in support of long-time ally, President Bashar al-Assad, last September. 

The defence ministry also released footage of the Tu-22s taking off from Hamadan.

The announcement comes days after the Russian defence ministry released images of Tu-22s over Deir Ezzor and the results of bombing runs. It did not state where the aircraft were based.

Tupolev-22s began service as a Cold War-era strategic bomber in the 1960s. It has been upgraded several times, most recently in 2014.

Sukhoi-34 fighters have previously flown sorties over Syria from the Russian airbase in Latakia. Despite the ministry statement, the state-funded RT news service said the fighter escorts flew from Latakia.

The Tu-22s had previously flown from inside Russian territory. The relocation to Iran cuts journeys to Syria from 2,000km to 700km. They are too large to be accommodated at Russia's base in Latakia.

Iraq's prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, said his country had granted Russia permission to use its air space, on the condition the planes use corridors along Iraq's borders and not fly over Iraqi cities.

Abadi said the same permission has been given to air forces of a separate US-led coalition against Islamic State flying to Syria from Kuwait.

Russian news channel RT stated that Moscow on Monday had also requested airspace access from Iran and Iraq for cruise missile strikes on Syira.

Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, told IRNA state news agency on Tuesday that Moscow and Tehran "exchange capacities and facilities" in the fight against terrorism in Syria.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said air raids on Tuesday killed 19 civilians in two rebel-held districts in Aleppo.

The activist group said the strikes on Tariq al-Bab and al-Sakhur, which left three children among the dead, were carried out by either Russian or regime aircraft and had also wounded dozens of people.

Russian Tu-22M3 strike over undisclosed location in Syria, 11 August (Reuters)