Russia fires cruise missiles at IS targets in east Syria

MOSCOW (AP) — A Russian warship in the Mediterranean fired cruise missiles Tuesday toward Islamic State group targets in the eastern Syrian province of Deir el-Zour, Russia’s Defense Ministry said. Syrian government forces have been trying to reach the area besieged by the extremists for years.

Russia has been providing air cover for Syrian President Bashar Assad’s offensive against insurgent groups since 2015. The Russian defense ministry said Monday that Russian jets had made 80 flights to back Assad’s offensive on Deir el-Zour, a key city that has been under IS siege for three years.

Syrian troops and allied militiamen have for months been advancing toward Deir el-Zour, the provincial capital of the oil-rich province of the same name. Government forces are besieged in a handful of neighborhoods and a nearby airport.

A Russian frigate in the Mediterranean Sea fired the cruise missiles early Tuesday on IS targets near Deir el-Zour. The defense ministry said it targeted a fortified area around the town of el-Shola where most of the militants are believed to hail from Russia and former Soviet republics.

The ministry said its drone footage showed that the missile strikes there destroyed a communications center, command centers, ammunition depots, a repair shop for armored vehicles and killed an unspecified number of militants.

Opposition activists in Syria said government forces are pushing forward to end a nearly three-year siege by IS on parts of the city.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government forces are dismantling mines around a besieged government-held air base known as Brigade 137. The Observatory added that IS fighters are launching counterattacks in the area.

The DeirEzzor 24, an activist group that has reporters throughout the eastern province, reported heavy clashes near the village of Jabra that is adjacent to the besieged area.

Tuesday’s firing of cruise missiles came a day after the Russian defense ministry said two Russian troops were killed in shelling in Syria’s east.

The ministry’s statement quoted by Russian news agencies late on Monday said the two men died when a convoy escorting Russian cease-fire monitoring staff came under mortar fire outside the city of Deir el-Zour.

The ministry said one man died on the spot and the other died later of his wounds in a hospital.

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Mroue reported from Beirut.

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