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Dec 5, 8:02 AM EST

Russian field hospital hit in Syria's Aleppo, nurse killed


AP Photo
AP Photo/Hassan Ammar

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ALEPPO, Syria (AP) -- Rebel shelling of the Syrian government-held part of Aleppo killed a Russian nurse in a makeshift Russian hospital in the city on Monday while the Defense Ministry in Moscow said a Russian fighter jet crashed into the Mediterranean Sea after returning from a sortie over Syria.

The developments were a blow to Russia, which has been one of the staunchest supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad in his country's bitter civil war, now in its sixth year.

The shelling that killed the female nurse also wounded two Russian doctors working in the field hospital, a Russian officer in Aleppo told reporters. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. The hospital equipment was part of aid that Moscow had sent into the Furqan neighborhood in the government section of the city the previous day.

In Moscow, Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov confirmed the death of one Russian medic in Aleppo and said two were seriously wounded in an artillery attack that hit the Russian military hospital. He said an unspecified number of local residents who were at the hospital were also wounded and accused the United States, Britain and France of tipping off the rebels about the hospital's location.

"The blood of our soldiers is on the hands of those who ordered this murder. Those who created, nurtured and armed these beasts in human form and named them the 'opposition'," Konashenkov said.

Separately, the Defense Ministry said a Russian Su-33 fighter jet, based on the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, crashed into the Mediterranean Sea after returning from a sortie over Syria. The ministry said that "because of the failure of the arrester system's cable, the Su-33 fighter rolled off the deck" on Monday.

The pilot successfully ejected and was unharmed, the ministry said, adding that Russian military operations over Syria would not be affected by the incident.

This is the second loss of an aircraft from Russia's only aircraft carrier since it arrived off Syria last month. A MiG-29 crashed into the sea on Nov. 15 while attempting to land on the Admiral Kuznetsov.

In Aleppo, rebel shelling on the government-held part of the contested city has intensified in recent weeks as Syrian government and allied troops push their way into parts of Aleppo controlled by the opposition.

In an offensive that began last week, Syrian government forces seized large swaths of the Aleppo enclave that have been under rebel control since 2012. The fighting was most intense on Monday near the dividing line between east and west Aleppo as government and allied troops pushed their way from the eastern flank, reaching within less than 1 kilometer (half a mile) from the citadel in the center of the city.

Rebel fighters clashed with advancing troops and also lobbed mortars and shells into the government-controlled part of Aleppo to the west. Syrian State TV said four civilians were killed Monday in three different neighborhoods in western Aleppo.

The opposition-run Thiqa News agency and the Syrian Civil Defense in Aleppo city said four civilians were killed in rebel-held Zabadiyeh district when barrel bombs were dropped there.

In the nearby rebel-controlled Idlib province, Syrian opposition activists said Russian and Syrian aircraft stepped up assaults, a day after air raids killed more than 60 people.

The activist-run Local Coordination Committees said airstrikes on Monday hit the towns of Binnish, Maarat Nasaan, and Saraqib, as well as the provincial capital, Idlib. The network said three children were killed, blaming the attacks on Russian aircraft.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 288 civilians have been killed in the province since Oct. 20, when Syrian government and Russian aircraft intensified airstrikes. The Syrian Civil Defense in Idlib said 65 civilians were killed in Sunday's airstrikes across the province, including attacks on two rural marketplaces that killed dozens.

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Amos reported from Moscow.

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