Syrian rebels say Moscow deploys ground forces in Idlib campaign

Russia has sent special forces in recent days to fight alongside Syrian army troops struggling to make gains in a more than two month assault in northwestern Syria to seize the last opposition bastion, senior rebel commanders said.

They said although Russian officers and troops had been behind front lines directing the operations, using snipers and firing anti-tank missiles, this was the first time Moscow had sent ground troops on the battlefield in the campaign that began at the end of April.

“These special Russian forces are now present in the battlefield. The Russians are intervening directly now,” said Captain Naji Mustafa, spokesman for the Turkey-backed National Liberation Front (NLF) coalition of rebel factions.

Russian ground forces entered the battle with government forces to seize the strategic Humaymat hilltops in northern Hama that fell into rebel hands last week, regaining it after previous successive attempts by the army failed.

“When (Syrian President Bashar) al-Assad’s forces failed to advance, Russia then intervened directly … after bombing the area with more than 200 sorties,” Mustafa said.