Russia evacuates more than 100 citizens from Syria

MOSCOW (AFP) - Russia evacuated 116 Russian citizens and nationals of other ex-Soviet states on two planes belonging to the emergencies ministry which flew them from the Syrian port city of Latakia, the ministry said on Wednesday.

The first plane, an Ilyushin-76 cargo plane, brought back 89 people wanting to leave the conflict-torn country and landed at Moscow's Domodedovo airport late on Tuesday.

"On board were 89 people wanting to leave Syria, including 75 Russians," emergencies ministry spokeswoman Irina Rossius said in a statement on the ministry website. "They are mostly women and children."

The second plane, an Ilyushin-62, landed in Latakia in the early hours of Wednesday and returned to Moscow later that morning, the emergencies ministry said.

On board were 27 Russians wanting to leave Syria, it said in a statement to Russian news agencies. The first plane also took a cargo of 20 tonnes of humanitarian aid, largely conserves and sugar, into Syria.

The flights came as expectations grow of Western military action against President Bashar al-Assad's regime over claims it used chemical weapons in an attack outside the Syrian capital last week.

Russia has questioned the claims and warned such military action would have catastrophic consequences.

Latakia is a Mediterranean port city whose region is dominated by the Alawite community, the Muslim sect to which Assad, his family and much of the regime's elite belong.

Russia has insisted it has not been implementing a full-scale evacuation of the many thousands of Russian passport-holders still believed to be in Syria.

The emergencies ministry has evacuated around 750 Russians and other ex-Soviet nationals on its flights since the start of the conflict.

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