Russia declares humanitarian front in Syria
Russian forces are supplying humanitarian assistance to civilian areas in eastern Syria following months of intensive bombing in support of President Bashar al-Assad, a Russian general announced.
"The inhabitants are gradually coming back to Syrian cities and peaceful life is returning," General Sergei Rudskoi, a senior Russian General Staff official, told reporters on Friday. "In this context, the implementation of humanitarian operations will be a new line of work for the Russian armed forces in Syria."
Rudskoi said that most of the aid is being sent to the city of Deir Ezzor, and credited the return of "normal life" to Russia’s campaign against IS. The Deir Ezzor district is one of the few Syrian government strongholds in eastern Syria.
Supply routes to the city of 100,000 were cut off by Islamic State when the militants seized Palmyra in May 2015, with the only supplies coming in by helicopter.
General Rudskoi said Syria's Il-76 military transport planes had airdropped 22 tonnes of humanitarian aid to Deir Ezzor using Russian equipment.
"It will be distributed by local authorities," Rudskoi added.
The general stated that the launching of these operations was due to “extremists” grabbing aid sent to rebel-controlled areas.
"In the future we will give to the Syrian people all possible assistance when it comes to liberating the country from extremists and rebuilding peaceful life," Rudsoi added.
Meanwhile, an agreement signed by Russia and Syria back in August 2015 revealed the latter’s approval for an unrestricted Russian military presence in the war-torn country.
Russia began its air strike campaign on what it said was the Islamic State group and other rebel groups in Syria on 30 September, a month after the agreement was signed. It was Russia’s first foreign military intervention since the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979.
Russian President Vladimir Putin cited the campaign’s necessity as to stop the advancement and development of IS fighters before they reach Russia’s borders.
The text of the agreement was revealed for the first time by the Russian government on Thursday, and specified the deployment of Russian fighter jets at the Hmeimim airbase in the Syrian-government controlled province of Latakia.
The text states that the agreement with Russia was “concluded for an open-ended period of time”.
The deal was made to defend the "sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of the Russian Federation and the Syrian Arab Republic," according to the document.
Military analyst Alexander Golts said the agreement with Syria suited Russia's interests.
"Russia can halt its operation at any time so it does not have any responsibilities before Syria," he told AFP.
"At the same time it can stay there for as long as it wishes. It's totally up to the Russian authorities."
The West has criticised Russia's foray into the already convoluted, multi-front conflict, accusing Moscow of targeting not only the IS group but also moderate rebels fighting the Assad government as well as civilians.
Moscow has denied the accusations, claiming it has been supporting anti-Assad armed rebels in the fight against IS.