Russian strikes in Syria hit rebels' underground arsenal

MOSCOW: Russia on Thursday said its air strikes in Syria had destroyed a huge underground arms depot belonging to the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a jihadist alliance led by Al-Qaeda's former Syria affiliate.

"Russian aviation destroyed the largest buried arsenal of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham near Abu Duhur," defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said, referring to a town in the northwestern Idlib province.

The munitions depot was hidden underground and contained "more than a thousand tonnes of weaponry," he said in statement.

Russia said its aviation destroyed the depot using high power artillery, specially designed to destroy underground targets.

The strikes also killed "49 fighters, including seven leaders of the Al-Nusra Front's eastern sector."

Al-Nusra Front was Al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria until mid-2016 when it broke off ties, before going on to found a new jihadist-led alliance called Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which now controls large swathes of Idlib province.

The statement repeated Russia's claim on Wednesday to have seriously injured Hayat Tahrir al-Sham's leader Abu Mohamed al-Jolani, saying he was "in a coma" and that this had "thrown the terrorists of the whole Idlib province into disarray."

The jihadist-led alliance on Wednesday denied Russia's claim, saying that Jolani was in "good health."

Russia, which has intervened in the Syrian civil war on the side of Bashar al-Assad's regime, said on Wednesday it had killed 12 leaders of the jihadist coalition including Jolani's security chief.

The Syrian regime and Russia have carried out heavy air strikes on Idlib province after a Sept 18 jihadist attack on its military police deployed in neighbouring Hama province. — AFP