DAMASCUS: Syria said on Tuesday it had received sophisticated new arms from Russia, including warplanes, and deployed them against jihadists, as signs grew of a major shift in the country’s four-year conflict.
A senior military official said Damascus had received a fresh batch of arms, including at least five fighter planes, while a monitoring group said there had been a marked increase in regime attacks on the self-styled Islamic State.
The deliveries came amid a rapid Russian military build-up in Syria, with US officials saying Moscow had deployed 28 combat planes and begun drone flights in the country.
The war in Syria has taken on a new dimension in recent days as Moscow has moved to boost its military presence there, raising deep concerns in Washington.
The Syrian military official said the new warplanes had arrived on Friday along with reconnaissance aircraft at a military base in Latakia province, the traditional heartland of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Damascus had also received “sophisticated military equipment to fight IS”, including targeting equipment and precision-guided missiles, the official said.
The new weapons had already been deployed against IS in the cities of Deir Ezzor and Raqa, the jihadist group’s de facto capital in Syria. “Russian weapons are starting to have an effect in Syria,” the official said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said new Russian equipment was being put into action, with at least 38 IS fighters killed on Monday in air strikes in jihadist-held towns in central Syria.
“The number of raids is growing and the strikes are more precise after the Syrian air force received arms and more efficient planes from Moscow”, Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.
The deployments come as Russia pushes for the coalition of Western and regional powers fighting IS to join forces with Assad against the jihadists.
Moscow has been an unwavering supporter of Assad during a conflict that has seen more than 240,000 killed since March 2011, insisting it would continue arms deliveries.
But Russia’s intentions have been unclear in recent days as it deployed a range of new weaponry and troops to its airbase near Latakia.