Russian fighter jets have continued to carry out intense air raids in Syria in support of forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad after Moscow said it had begun withdrawing its forces from the country.
Syrian government forces on Tuesday advanced towards the historic city of Palmyra under ''heavy Russian air cover'', according to Al-Manar – a television station belonging to Hezbollah, which is fighting alongside the Syrian president's regime.
The reports of Russian air involvement follow Monday's surprise Kremlin announcement about troop withdrawal from Syria.
Palmyra was seized last summer by Islamic State, which destroyed many of the city's monumental ruins. The renewed offensive in the area came as Russian warplanes began leaving Syria following a six-month campaign that was crucial in halting the momentum of opposition fighters and cementing Assad's rule in the country's western provinces.
Russia's defence ministry said a first group of planes had taken off for home from the Hmeymim airbase near Latakia. In a series of tweets on Tuesday morning, it said aircraft would be relocated from the airbase to their home bases in Russia.
State television showed footage of soldiers loading an Ilyushin-76 transport plane with equipment to be returned to Russia. An unspecified number of Su-34 fighter jets were among the first group to set off for the long-distance flight back.
''Personnel are loading equipment, logistics items and inventory into transport aviation aircraft,'' the defence ministry wrote, adding that Shoigu had ordered the ''main part'' of the contingent in Syria to be redeployed.