BEIRUT – The Russian military has reportedly continued to expand its operations throughout Syria, with an activist outlet claiming that a number of technical experts have deployed to a key radar base in Suweida.
"Russian technicians have settled in Kharouf Hill, one of the most important air defense installations in the Suweida province," All4Syria reported Wednesday morning.
The pro-rebel outlet added that the Russians were supervising operations in the base, which is located between the southern Daraa and Suweida provinces, east of the rebel-held village of Busr al-Harir.
A field commander told All4Syria that regime forces in May 2015 removed advanced equipment from Kharouf Hill after the Free Syrian Army-affiliated Southern Front coalition notched a series of successes in eastern Daraa.
However, residents of the area told the outlet that regime forces have since reinstalled their radars at Kharouf Hill, which has served as a command center for regime air defense installations in southern Syria.
Russia began bombing targets in southern Syria for the first time in late October, a month after Moscow began its aerial intervention on behalf of the Bashar al-Assad regime.
Since then, Russia has reportedly moved to start aerial operations from the Al-Shayrat and Tiyas airbases east of Homs, while its military advisors have allegedly supervised pro-regime forces advancing against rebels north of Latakia.
Moscow used to operate a facility at the Tel al-Hara observation base in southwestern Syria which collected intelligence on Damascus' neighbors. In October 2014, rebels released a video showing documents bearing Russian writing as well as symbols of Russian Military Intelligence's (GRU) 6th Directorate, which is tasked with signals intelligence.
Russian technicians touring Suweida
Beyond deploying in the southern Syrian air-defense installation, Russia has also reportedly begun studying the feasibility of setting up an airbase in the Druze-populated Suweida province.
All4Syria cited a source from the province as saying that a group of Russian experts had made several visits to the area over the past few months, where they met with a number of religious leaders and directors of government departments.
In a report published January 9, the pro-opposition outlet reported that a Russian military delegation had paid a secret visit to the Thaala airbase located 15 kilometers west of Suweida's provincial capital.
"[The delegation] inspected [Thaala's] geographical position and the extent to which it would be possible to station Russian warplanes there in 2016 if Russia increased its military presence in Syria," All4Syria reported, citing a "trusted" source.
According to the source, the Russian experts expressed interest in an airbase in Suweida because the province has been mostly spared the violence of the civil war that has raged elsewhere in Syria.
However, the source added that the Russians "expressed annoyance" at the proximity of rebel front lines to the facility.
Southern Front factions in mid-June briefly captured parts of the Thaala military airport before being beaten back by regime forces and allied pro-Assad Druze militias. Although the rebel lines were pushed back, the insurgents have continued to shell regime forces deployed in the airport.
NOW's English news desk editor Albin Szakola (@AlbinSzakola) wrote this report. Ullin Hope translated the Arabic-language source material.