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First Russian experts arrive in Syria for Palmyra demining

March 31, 2016, 10:22 UTC+3

The first units of the joint detachment of the International Anti-Mine Center of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation arrived at the Hmeimim airbase in Syria

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© Valeriy Sharifulin/TASS

MOSCOW, March 31. /TASS/. The first units of the joint detachment of the Russian Armed Forces’ international anti-mine center arrived at the Hmeimim airbase on Thursday to take part in a mine clearing operation in the city of Palmyra, the press service of the Russian Defense Ministry told reporters.

"Today, the first units of the joint detachment of the International Anti-Mine Center of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation arrived at the Hmeimim airbase in the Syrian Arab Republic to take part in humanitarian demining of life support facilities in the historic part of the ancient city of Palmyra," says the ministry’s statement, received by TASS.

"The detachment’s units were airlifted [to Syria] by the Antonov An-124 Ruslan and Ilyushin Il-76 planes of the Military Transport Aviation," the report says.

The Russian Defense Ministry said that the detachment is furnished with the most advanced mine clearing and protective equipment. In addition to sappers, the detachment includes mine detection dog handlers. During the mine clearing operation the Russian experts will also use the Uran-6 robots.

Previously, a military-diplomatic source told TASS that the total number of Russian sappers and detector dog handlers that will be engaged in the mine clearing operation in the city of Palmyra in Syria will reach some 100 people. He said that the mine clearing operation would last several months at least. The Russian military are to demine not only the city’s historic part, but also residential areas and approach routes to Palmyra.

On Monday, Chief of the Russian General Staff Valery Gerasimov said that sappers with robots and sniffer dogs for mine detection would be dispatched from Russia to Syria. He also invited other countries to join the Palmyra mine clearing operation.

The Syrian army said on Sunday that it liberated the ancient city of Palmyra, a UNESCO world heritage site, with support from the Russian air group.

Palmyra, an ancient city in Syria’s Homs province some 210 kilometers from Damascus, was seized by gunmen of the Islamic State (a terrorist organization outlawed in Russia) in early summer 2015. The Syrian authorities said back then that Palmyra with its monumental ruins of a great city that was one of the most important cultural centers of the ancient world standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, could share the fate of Iraq’s ancient cities of Assur, Nimrud and Hatra that were destroyed by Islamic State militants.

Russia began to deliver pinpoint air strikes against terrorist targets in Syria on September 30, 2015 at the request from Syria’s President Bashar Assad. Withdrawal of the major part of Russia’s air group from Syria began on March 15. The Russian defense ministry says however that Russian warplanes will continue air strikes against terrorist targets.

A ceasefire regime brokered by Russia and the United States on February 22 officially came into effect in Syria at midnight Damascus time on February 27. This does not cover terrorist groups such as Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, both outlawed in Russia, and other groups recognized as terrorist by the United Nations Security Council.

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