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Russian warplanes take off from Iran to target IS

Nataliya Vasilyeva
Associated Press

Moscow — Russian warplanes took off on Tuesday from a base in Iran to target Islamic State fighters and other militants in Syria, Russia’s Defense Ministry said, widening Moscow’s bombing campaign in Syria in a major development in the country’s civil war.

The long-range bombers took off from near the Iranian city of Hamedan, around 175 miles southwest of the Iranian capital, and struck targets in three provinces in northern and eastern Syria.

U.S. officials said Russia had talked about the possibility of flying planes out of Iran since late last year, but Moscow’s decision to do so on Tuesday came as a surprise. They said the setup at the Iranian air base was established very quickly, perhaps overnight. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss diplomacy in public.

Meanwhile, Syrian opposition activists said a wave of airstrikes on rebel-held parts of the northern city of Aleppo killed at least 15 civilians and wounded many others on Tuesday, but it was not clear whether the strikes were carried out by the Russian or Syrian air force.

It is virtually unheard in recent history for Iran to allow a foreign power to use one of its bases to stage attacks. Russia has also never used the territory of another country in the Middle East for its operations inside Syria, where it has been carrying out an aerial campaign in support of President Bashar Assad’s government for nearly a year.

The announcement suggests cooperation at the highest levels between Moscow and Tehran, both key allies of the embattled president.

It comes a day after Russia’s defense minister said Moscow and Washington are edging closer to an agreement on Syria that would help defuse the situation in the besieged northern city of Aleppo.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the agreement would “allow us to find common ground and start fighting together for bringing peace to that territory,” adding that Russian representatives are “in a very active stage of talks with our American colleagues.”

Russia and the United States have been discussing greater coordination for striking extremists in Syria, but they have been unable to reach agreement on which militant groups could be targeted.