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Satellite images suggest Russia building new Syrian military bases

The images show build-up near key port city of Latakia after US officials confirm that 28 Russian military aircraft now in Syria
Satellite images appear to show Russian jets stationed at airport near Mediterranean coast (Twitter/@TheStudyOfWar)

Fresh satellite images appear to show that Russia is continuing its military build-up in Syria, developing two new bases near the key port city of Latakia.

Evidence of the construction has sparked fears that Russia is further escalating its involvement in Syria’s ongoing civil war, as political leaders in Europe stress the need to seek a “political solution” in the country.

New satellite images taken in mid-September and released on Tuesday by military intelligence site IHS Jane’s appear to show that Russia is extending construction at two new bases near Syria’s Mediterranean coast.

The images show significant activity at an existing weapons storage facility and a military base just north of Latakia, a coastal city dominated by members of President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite sect and traditionally considered a stronghold for the leader.

The site of the new build-up lies some 20km from al-Assad International Airport, where additional satellite images released by European aerospace giant Airbus suggest that 24 additional Russian jets have recently been deployed, joining four planes already there.

The airport, named after Assad's eldest brother who was widely expected to follow his father into power until his 1994 death in a car crash, has been the site of an intensive Russian military build-up over recent weeks.

US officials have confirmed evidence of the escalation, saying that the latest moves leave Russia with 28 operational aircraft inside Syria. 

However, US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter refused to condemn the moves over the weekend, saying the build-up was “defensive” and met prior commitments Moscow had made to Damascus.

The build-up comes amid indications that European leaders are looking to revive stalled efforts to find a political solution to the entrenched crisis.

The UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande met on Tuesday, agreeing “on the need to revitalise the political process,” according to a source in Hollande’s entourage.

According to Cameron’s office, the two leaders agreed that a “big part of the answer to the refugee crisis must be a solution to the situation in Syria,” pledging to increase support for the country’s neighbours “to enable more refugees to stay there” rather than travelling to Europe to seek asylum.

The UK has always said it seeks a political solution in Syria and previously stressed that it would oppose any deal that allowed Assad to stay in power, but signalled a radical policy shift earlier this month when Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the president could be allowed to continue on as part of a “transitional government”.