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Duma OKs indefinite presence of Russian troops in Syria

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A handout picture taken on March 16, 2016 and released by the Russian Defense Ministry shows a Russian Sukhoi Su-24 bomber taking off from Hmeimim military base in Latakia province, western Syria. (Photo by AFP)

The lower house of the Russian parliament has ratified an agreement with the Damascus government that allows Russian troops to stay indefinitely in Syria as Moscow is battling foreign-sponsored Takfiri militants in the conflict-ridden Arab country.

On Friday, all 446 lawmakers in the State Duma voted unanimously to approve the deal, which allows Russia to keep its forces at the Hmeimim air base in Syria's western coastal province of Latakia for as long as it wants.

Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov addressed the legislators, stating that the “draft federal law effectively regulates force composition and structure, conditions of its deployment and functions.”

He added that the Russian-Syrian agreement on an open-ended deployment also addresses the “issues of the operation of the Russian Armed Forces air group on the territory of Syria.”

The accord was penned in August 2015, one month before the Russian air campaign against militant positions in Syria began at the request of the Damascus government. Russian President Vladimir Putin then submitted the agreement to the State Duma on August 9, 2016.

Under the deal, the Russian air force will operate inside Syria upon the orders of the air group commander and in coordination with Syrian authorities.

Russia also reserves the right to bring into or remove from Syria any munitions or military equipment necessary to accomplish the air force's tasks and provide the safety of its personnel. The agreement would be terminated once one of the sides notifies the other of its desire to do so.

Russia’s veto threat over Syria resolution

Meanwhile, Russia's Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin has dismissed a French-proposed Security Council resolution that demands all military aircraft, including those of Russia, be grounded amid heavy fighting in the strategic northwestern Syrian city of Aleppo.

Russia's Permanent Representative to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin speaks to the media after a Security Council meeting at the UN headquarters in New York, the United States, on October 6, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

Churkin said “I cannot possibly see how we can let this resolution pass” as the Security Council would discuss the proposal on Saturday.

35,000 terrorists eliminated in Syria since February

Also on Friday, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said about 35,000 terrorists, including over 2,700 Russian nationals and citizens from the Commonwealth of Independent States, have been killed in clashes with Syrian government forces since February 2016.

This file photo shows Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly known as Nusra Front) militants in an undisclosed location in Syria.

He told reporters in Moscow that a total of 586 settlements and 12,360 square kilometers had been liberated from Daesh and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly known as Nusra Front) terrorists from February 27 to September 1.

The conflict in Syria, which flared up in March 2011, has claimed the lives of more than 400,000 people, according to an estimate by UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura.

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