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Syria, Russia carry out joint exercise after alleged Israeli airstrikes

Syrian aircraft battle against warplanes and drones while Russian jets provide cover in first drill since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine three months ago

Aircraft participating in a joint drill, conducted by Russian and Syrian air forces in Syria, June 7, 2022. (Screen capture/Twitter)
Aircraft participating in a joint drill, conducted by Russian and Syrian air forces in Syria, June 7, 2022. (Screen capture/Twitter)

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — The air forces of Russia and Syria conducted a joint drill over the war-torn country Tuesday, the first since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began more than three months ago, Syria’s Defense Ministry said.

The ministry said two Russian SU-35 fighter jets and six Syrian MiG-23 and MiG-29 aircraft simulated facing “hostile” warplanes and drones. Syrian pilots dealt with them with cover and support from the Russian warplanes, it said.

“All illusive targets were monitored and completely destroyed while aerial targets were hit at night for the first time,” the Syrian Defense Ministry said in a statement. It also released a video of the warplanes that it said took part in the drill.

The announcement came hours after Syrian state television reported that Israeli missiles targeted Syrian army positions south of the capital of Damascus, causing material damage but no casualties.

State TV quoted an unnamed military official as saying that Israeli warplanes fired several missiles while flying over the Golan Heights before midnight Monday. It added that Syrian air defenses shot down most of the missiles.

A Twitter account tracking Israeli military activity in Syria claimed the strikes targeted sites in the suburb of al-Kiswah, south of Damascus, and near the Damascus International Airport, southeast of the city. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also said the strikes targeted al-Kiswah. The claims could not immediately be independently verified.

There was no comment on the strike from Israel.

According to Syrian state media, Israeli missiles targeted central Syria on May 13, killing five people including a civilian, and igniting fires on farmland in the area.

Russia became involved militarily in Syria in September 2015 helping to tip the balance of power in favor of President Bashar Assad’s forces in the 11-year conflict that has killed half a million people.

The Syrian Defense Ministry said that during Tuesday’s drill, the Russian and Syrian warplanes carried out joint patrols along the Golan Heights and other parts of southern Syria.

Footage released by Syrian state media on April 27, 2022, claims to show Syrian air defenses firing at an Israeli attack near Damascus. (Screenshot)

The last such joint drill was conducted a week before Russia began its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. In mid-February, the Russian military deployed long-range nuclear-capable bombers and fighter jets carrying state-of-the-art hypersonic missiles to Syria for massive naval drills in the Mediterranean Sea.

Israel has staged hundreds of strikes on targets in Syria over the years but rarely acknowledges or discusses such operations. It says it targets bases of Iran-allied militias, such as Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group that has fighters deployed in Syria and fighting on the side of Assad’s government forces, as well as arms shipments believed to be bound for the militias.

Israeli strikes have continued in Syrian airspace, which is largely controlled by Russia, even as ties with Moscow have deteriorated in recent weeks. Israel has found itself at odds with Russia as it has increasingly supported Ukraine while seeking to maintain freedom of movement in Syria’s skies.

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