MOSCOW • A Russian military transport plane crashed in Syria yesterday, killing all 32 people on board, Russian news agencies quoted the Russian Defence Ministry as saying, an incident that sharply raises the death toll from the Kremlin's Syria operation.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is running for re-election later this month, ordered "a significant part" of Moscow's military contingent there to start withdrawing in December, declaring their work largely done.
But casualties continue to mount.
The defence ministry was cited as saying that the plane, an An-26, crashed at Russia's Hmeymim air base in Latakia Province. "The reason for the crash according to preliminary information could have been a technical fault," the ministry said, adding that the plane had not come under fire according to a report from the ground.
The transporter was around 500m from the runway, the statement said. A commission will investigate the causes of the crash.
Twenty-six passengers and six crew members were on board, and all were killed in the crash, the ministry said.
Moscow began conducting air strikes in Syria in September 2015, and its intervention has swung the nearly seven-year conflict firmly in favour of its ally in Damascus.
The latest accident comes after a Sukhoi military jet crashed while trying to take off from Hmeymim in October last year, killing two crew members.
In December 2016, a plane carrying a Russian military orchestra to Syria crashed in the Black Sea, killing all 92 people on board.
There have also been deaths and injuries among Russian forces in Syria.
In one incident, in February this year, Syrian rebels shot down a Russian warplane and killed its pilot on the ground after he ejected.
About 300 men working for a Kremlin-linked Russian private military firm were either killed or injured in Syria last month when their column was attacked by United States-led coalition forces, according to three sources familiar with the matter.
Russian officials said a handful of Russian citizens may have been killed in that incident, but said they were not members of Russia's armed forces.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE