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Russia confirms strikes targeting Syria's Palmyra

Activists report damage from Russian airstrikes to ancient citadel, while Moscow says targets were Islamic State fortifications
A satellite image taken in August shows part of the Roman-era ruins at Palmyra (AFP)

Russia's air force has struck the area around the Islamic State (IS) group-held ancient city of Palmyra, the defence ministry said on Monday, as Moscow pressed on with its bombing campaign in Syria.

"Su-25 jets hit a fortified IS position in the Tadmur area of Homs province," Moscow's defence ministry said in a statement, using the Arabic name for Palmyra.

"As a result of a direct strike, a fortification, an underground bunker and anti-aircraft artillery were destroyed."

The Russian defence ministry previously said its warplanes had struck close to the ancient city but insisted that it avoided historic sites.

Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, also said that Russian planes had targeted Palmyra with strikes on Monday.

He said several strikes hit the city's ancient citadel, but had no further details.

Khaled al-Homsi, an activist from Palmyra, said Russian air strikes on Monday had struck a citadel on the western edges of the historical site. 

"The extent of the damage could not be verified," he told AFP.

Russia did not specify when the strikes took place but said in a statement on Monday that its jets had struck over 237 targets in Syria over the previous two days.

Russian warplanes pounded sites belonging to IS and al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front in the Homs, Hama, Latakia, Damascus, Aleppo and Raqqa provinces, Moscow said in a statement.

In Aleppo province, Moscow said it hit a training camp for foreign fighters and an improvised explosive device production plant, and said it destroyed two armoured vehicles in Hama province.

Russia's military said it also took out a key al-Nusra Front command post on a strategic hill in the coastal Latakia region.   

The latest strikes came after the broadest international talks to end the conflict were held on Friday in Vienna.

For the first time, the meeting brought together all the main outside players in the crisis, including Russia and Iran, key allies of the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Participants agreed to ask the United Nations to broker a peace deal between the regime and opposition, neither of whom were represented at the talks, to clear the way for a new constitution and UN-supervised elections.

Russia has been bombing in Syria since the end of September to help troops loyal to Assad fight what it calls "terrorists". 

The US and its allies, in a separate coalition bombing IS, say that Moscow is mainly targeting more moderate groups fighting Assad.

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