A still image, taken from video footage and released by Russia's Defence Ministry on August 16, 2016, shows a Russian Tupolev Tu-22M3 long-range bomber based in Iran, flying after bombs were dropped off, at an unknown location in Syria (Photo: Reuters)
The speaker of Iran's parliament stressed on Wednesday that Russia does not have a permanent military base within the Islamic Republic, a day after Moscow announced launching airstrikes on Syria from Iran.
The fact that Iran allowed Russian warplanes to take off from its territory to bomb targets in Syria was an unprecedented move, underscoring the deepening cooperation between two powerhouses heavily invested in the Syrian civil war.
In Syria, seven civilians were killed and nine were wounded by rocket rounds fired by armed groups on a government-controlled district of the city of Aleppo, Syria's state-run news agency said. SANA reported that the rockets struck the Salaheddine residential district in the northern city, which has been divided into a rebel-held eastern part and a government-controlled western part since 2012.
Once Syria's largest city and commercial center, Aleppo is now the focal point of the country's ruinous civil war. On Tuesday, nearly 20 civilians were reported killed in airstrikes in the eastern, rebel-held districts.
Wednesday's comments by the Iranian official, Ali Larijani, seem geared at easing domestic concerns over the strikes. Iran's constitution, ratified after its 1979 Islamic Revolution, bars foreign militaries from having bases within the country.
In his remarks, reported by the state-run IRNA news agency, Larijani did not directly discuss the strikes, though he said Iran has "cooperated with Russia, as it is our ally on regional issues, especially on Syrian issues."
"We have good cooperation with Russia and we say it loud and clear," Larijani said.
Russia's Defense Ministry announced Tuesday that it launched the strikes from near the Iranian city of Hamedan and struck targets in three provinces in northern and eastern Syria.
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. Iran is also a major supporter of Assad.
Col. Christopher Garver, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, told reporters at the Pentagon that the Russians activated a communications link with coalition officials just ahead of the bomber mission.
"The Russians did notify the coalition," he said, adding that they "informed us they were coming through" airspace that could potentially put them in proximity of U.S. and coalition aircraft in Iraq or Syria.
Asked how much advance notice the Russians gave the U.S., Garver said, "we did know in time" to maintain safety of flight. "It's not a lot of time, but it's enough" to maintain safety in the airspace over Iraq and Syria, he said.
That raises questions about whether the move was a strategic necessity or a political message from the Kremlin to Washington.
The announcement from Russia marks the first significant stationing of its troops in Iran since World War II.