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HMEIMIM /SYRIA/, May 4. /TASS/. The Russian Defense Ministry denies the very instance of an air strike against a hospital in Aleppo on April 27, because the building, according to Russian military, had been ruined back last year, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said on Wednesday.
The humanitarian organization Doctors without Borders claims that the hospital was destroyed in a recent air raid.
Earlier, the Russian Defense Ministry said that Russian planes flew no sorties in the area of Aleppo on that day, while a plane belonging to one of the countries of the so-called "anti-Islamic State coalition" appeared in the sky over the city for the first time after a long interval.
"The pseudo-sensational report of a bombing raid against the Al-Quds hospital has been replicated by many international mass media as an example of breach of the Russian-US agreement on a ceasefire in Syria," Konashenkov said.
At a Defense Ministry briefing Konashenkov presented two photographs. One, made by a Russian drone on April 29, "clearly shows the degree of the hospital’s destruction."
"This is irrefutable evidence and nobody denies it," he said.
The other image, taken by space reconnaissance means, indicates the very same damage, Konashenkov said, adding that the latter photo was made on October 15, 2015.
"The presented photographs indicate quite clearly that all ostensible "eyewitness accounts" about an air strike against the hospital are in fact another falsehood.
"More comments would be redundant," Konashenkov said.
The spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, Stephane Dujarric, earlier said an air strike on April 27 left 20 dead. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon blamed the attack on the Syrian military, who earlier disclaimed responsibility for the strike. The UN Security Council will meet in session in the evening of May 4 to discuss the situation in Aleppo.
Russia’s aviation carried out 87 sorties over the past four days and delivered strikes on the targets of the Islamic State terrorist group in Syria’s Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor provinces, Russia’s Defense Ministry official spokesman Igor Konashenkov told reporters on Wednesday.
"Over the past four days the Aerospace Forces carried out 87 sorties for delivering strikes on the IS facilities in the Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor provinces," Konashenkov said.
The aviation is used near Araq for supporting the offensive of the government forces and self-defense militia units. "Seven command points of IS terrorists in this area were destroyed by our aviation," he said.
According to the spokesman, Russia has withdrawn from Syria about 30 aircraft, including all its Sukhoi Su-25 strike fighters, as well as a considerable number of personnel.
"We have shown the withdrawal of our troops from the Hmeimim airbase. In particular, we withdrew aircraft - bombers, the Su-25 strike fighters. In particular, all the Su-25 planes have been withdrawn from the airbase," Konashenkov added.
According to him, about 30 aircraft and part of the personnel that were engaged in equipment maintenance, supply of ammunition and other materiel, have returned to Russia.
Konashenkov said only a necessary number of planes remain at the Hmeimim base now allowing to "secure control over the ceasefire implementation and carry out tangible air strikes on the targets of IS and Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists."
According to Konashenkov, the Russian and US military have reached complete mutual understanding on organizing aviation flights over Syria.
"At present, there is complete mutual understanding in this issue. Data exchange with our colleagues has been established on where and how flights are organized. Everything has been regulated in this matter," Konashenkov said.
He recalled that during the first months of the Russian aircraft actions in Syria flights overlapped practically daily, and those were not only aircraft and helicopters but also unmanned aerial vehicles.
Moscow and Washington signed a memorandum on safety of flights over Syria last year. The document is designed to prevent incidents in the air between the Russian aircraft and the aircraft of the US-led coalition.
The official has also pointed out that the period of the Russian airbase’s presence in Syria depends on the timeframe of the liquidation of the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist groups in the country.
"They [the terrorist groups] still control a considerable part of Syrian territory," he said.
Konashenkov said that the Russian aviation group, performing "a lot less" sorties, has done much more than the planes of the US-led coalition.
According to the official, the operation of the Russian Aerospace Forces in Syria has accelerated the conciliation process between the warring sides, and this process is gaining momentum.
Answering a question about the ground units of the Russian Armed Forces in Syria, Konashenkov said that only units guarding the airbase and experts engaged in the mine clearing operation in the city of Palmyra and environs are staying in the country. In addition, General Konashenkov said, firing pointers are working in Syria to ensure the precision of airstrikes. However, this is done in exceptional circumstances, he said.
According to the general, the process of eliminating terrorists in Syria would get faster if supplies from the border with Turkey were brought to an end.
"The most problem areas are currently in the north of Syria, near Aleppo and, in particular, on the Syrian-Turkish border. It is from there that the terrorists, as we’ve repeatedly stated, are getting manpower and materiel. If these sources run dry, I believe everything will happen much faster."
The Defense Ministry has said repeatedly stated that terrorists in Syria were getting supplies from Turkey. The chief of Russia’s General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, pointed out that Ankara’s supplies of weapons, ammunition and medicines to the terrorists were "one of the destabilizing factors that cause a considerable negative effect on the reconciliation process."
The spokesman has also said that terrorists from the Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist movement have breached the truce in the Syrian city of Aleppo.
"Terrorists of the Jabhat al-Nusra organization continue provocations aimed at escalating the tension in the northern districts of the province of Latakia and the city of Aleppo," the spokesman said.
Konashenkov pointed out that nearly 300 militants tried to break through the Syrian army positions in the Aleppo area on Tuesday.
"An attempt was made yesterday by around 300 militants to break through to the positions of the Syrian government troops near Aleppo populated locality," he said.
According to Konashenkov, the Russian and the US sides planned to introduce a truce regime in Aleppo and its suburbs upon approval from the Syrian leadership and the moderate opposition.
The ceasefire regime was expected to be prolonged for two more days. However, the attacks by terrorists on the Az-Zagra neighborhood, as well as the massive shelling of other residential quarters from the Hellfire rocket systems that entailed mass deaths of civilians disrupted the introduction of the ceasefire regime in Aleppo, the Russian Defense Ministry spokesman said.
"At present, active consultations are ongoing between the Russian Center for the Syrian Truce and the American Center for the Ceasefire in Amman (Jordan) with the participation of the Syrian leaders on the quickest introduction of the truce regime in Aleppo, the spokesman said.
Russia started dealing air strikes against the Islamic State in Syria in September 2015 at the request of President Bashar Assad.
The air group initially comprised over 50 aircraft and helicopters, including Sukhoi Su-24M, Su-25SM and state-of-the-art Su-34 aircraft. They were redeployed to the Hmeimim airbase in the province of Latakia. On October 7, Moscow also involved the Russian Navy in the military operation. Four missile ships of the Caspian Flotilla fired 26 Kalibr cruise missiles (NATO codename Sizzler) at militants’ facilities in Syria. Sukhoi Su-30SM fighters were redeployed in mid-October to provide air support to the military grouping.
In mid-November, after an alleged terrorist attack on a Russian passenger jet that fell in Egypt killing 224 people on board, Moscow increased the number of aircraft taking part in the operation in Syria by several dozen and involved strategic bombers in the strikes as well.
On November 24, a Turkish F-16 fighter brought down a Russian Sukhoi Su-24M bomber involved in Moscow’s military operation. The Russian president referred to the attack as a “stab in Russia’s back” and promised that the move would cause response action from Russia. Moscow deployed new S-400 air defense systems in Syria in order to protect the warplanes involved in the military operation and started arming the fighters intended to provide air support to bombers and attack aircraft in Syria with air-to-air missiles.
The decision to revoke the bulk of the Russian air group from Syria followed in March 2016.