MOSCOW/ISTANBUL • Russia has launched warplanes from Iran for the second time to bomb the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group in Syria, denying the action violated a United Nations Security Council resolution.
The strikes came after Russia on Tuesday began flying warplanes from an Iranian airbase in a major switch in its bombing campaign in Syria, prompting concern from the United States.
Yesterday, Russian Sukhoi-34 jets took off from the Hamadan base in western Iran and carried out a group aerial strike against ISIS targets in Deir Ezzor province, the Defence Ministry said, calling the operation a success.
The strikes with high-explosive fragmentation bombs "destroyed two command centres and large field camps for training terrorists in the area of the town of Deir Ezzor, killing more than 150 fighters including foreign mercenaries", the ministry said.
Russia had previously flown raids only out of its bases in Syria and from its own soil.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted yesterday that using the Iranian base did not breach a UN Security Council resolution requiring its prior approval for the supply, sale or transfer of warplanes to Iran.
On Tuesday, US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Russia's use of an Iranian base was "unfortunate" and "could very well be a violation" of the resolution.
"There are no grounds to suspect Russia of breaching the resolution," Mr Lavrov said at a news conference in Moscow. "In the case we are discussing now, there was neither the sale, nor supply, nor transfer of warplanes to Iran.
"These warplanes, with the consent of Iran, are being used by the Russian air force to participate in an anti-terrorism operation in Syria at the request of the legal Syrian authorities," he said.
Russia had previously flown raids only out of its bases in Syria and from its own soil. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted yesterday that using the Iranian base did not breach a UN Security Council resolution requiring its prior approval for the supply, sale or transfer of warplanes to Iran.
Iran's National Security Council chief Ali Shamkhani said on Tuesday Iran and Russia "enjoy strategic cooperation in the fight against terrorism in Syria, and share their facilities and capacities to this end".
Iran and Russia are the two staunchest backers of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, with Teheran commanding thousands of troops fighting for him on the ground while Russia provides airpower.
Both oppose calls for Mr Assad to step down as a way of resolving the conflict that has killed more than 290,000 people since it erupted in March 2011.
Iran has long banned foreign militaries from establishing bases on its soil. But the raids appeared to signal a budding alliance that would expand Russia's military footprint in the region. It also highlights Russia's ambitions for greater influence in a turbulent Middle East.
Last year, Russia and Iran signed a military cooperation deal focused on training and fighting terrorism. On Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin's top Middle East envoy arrived in Teheran to discuss bilateral relations.
Russia has also requested the use of Iranian airspace to fire cruise missiles at rebel targets in Syria.
Shi'ite-led Iran has sent thousands of troops and fighters, including members of its Revolutionary Guard Corps, to Syria to bolster Mr Assad - who is from the Shi'ite minority Alawite sect - against largely Sunni rebels.
For Teheran, losing a longtime ally to a majority-Sunni uprising would undermine its own influence in the region. Iranian proxies such as Lebanon's Hizbollah and an array of Shi'ite Iraqi militias have also fought for the Syrian regime.
And last year, Russia began its own operations in Syria, committing tanks, artillery and combat aircraft to the fight. It also built a new airbase in Latakia province in the Alawite heartland.
Syrian government troops and opposition fighters are now locked in a battle for the strategic city of Aleppo, where residents face a growing humanitarian crisis. Russia has carried out strikes in support of government troops there, activists said.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, WASHINGTON POST