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MOSCOW, Jan 4 (Reuters) - Russia denied a report in daily newspaper Kommersant that seven Russian planes had been destroyed by rebel shelling at Syria’s Hmeymim air base on Dec. 31, the TASS news agency on Thursday quoted the defence ministry as saying.
At least four Su-24 bombers, two Su-35S fighters and an An-72 transport plane, as well as an ammunition depot, were destroyed by the shelling, Kommersant said on its website, citing two “military-diplomatic” sources.
In the single biggest loss of military hardware for Russia since it launched air strikes in Syria in autumn 2015, more than 10 servicemen were wounded in the attack by “radical Islamists”, the report said.
“The Kommersant report on alleged “actual destruction” of seven Russian war planes at Hmeymim air base is fake”, TASS said, citing the ministry. It said the Russian air group in Syria was “combat-ready”.
The ministry said two Russian service personnel were killed in a mortar attack on the base by rebels, according to TASS. Earlier, the ministry said a Mi-24 helicopter had crash-landed in Syria on Dec. 31 due to a technical fault and two pilots died.
Russia began establishing a permanent presence at Hmeymim and a naval base at Tartous last month, although President Vladimir Putin has ordered a “significant” withdrawal of his military from Syria, declaring their work largely done.
Writing by Denis Pinchuk; Editing by Janet Lawrence