Parliamentary and religious support as Russia carries out first air strike in Syria

Friday 25/09/2015
‘Holy battle’ starts in the vicinity of Homs

WASHINGTON - A US defense official said that Russia had launched airstrikes in Syria.

The move follows a unanimous vote by Russian lawmakers to allow President Vladimir Putin to order airstrikes in Syria, where Russia has deployed fighter jets and other weapons in recent weeks.

Russia recently moved fighter aircraft to an air base south of the Syrian coastal city of Latakia.

US officials had said in recent days that the Russians were flying reconnaissance missions without dropping bombs to familiarize themselves within the area. That was taken as an indication that they were about to begin airstrikes.

The defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the airstrikes publicly, said the airstrikes were launched Wednesday near Homs.

"They gave us a heads-up they were going to start striking in Syria," the official said. "It was in the vicinity of Homs."

Meanwhile, Russia's powerful Orthodox Church on Wednesday voiced support for Moscow's decision to carry out air strikes in Syria against the Islamic State (ISIS) group, calling it a "holy battle".

"The fight with terrorism is a holy battle and today our country is perhaps the most active force in the world fighting it," said the head of the Church's public affairs department, Vsevolod Chaplin, quoted by Interfax news agency.

Chaplin explicitly said the Church backs Russia's decision to deploy its airforce in Syria to attack Islamic State.

"This decision corresponds with international law, the mentality of our people and the special role that our country has always played in the Middle East," Chaplin said.

Chaplin said a council representing Russia's main religions -- Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism -- would release a joint statement on Russia's role in Syria.

"In this statement, we will support the decision that was taken by our government," Chaplin said.

Russia's Orthodox Church, after years of repression under the Soviets, has regained much of its influence and built up close ties with the government despite a formal separation of Church and state. President Vladimir Putin is regularly depicted attending services.