One hundred and sixty Russian citizens fighting for the militant group Islamic State (Daesh) in Syria have been killed, a Russian deputy foreign minister said on Thursday, amid stepped-up international military action in the war-torn country.
"At the present time, there are more than 25,000 foreign terrorist militants fighting under the banner of Islamic State, including from Arab countries, Europe, Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States [a bloc of post-Soviet republics]," Oleg Syromolotov said, quoted by state news agency TASS.
He added that 2,719 Russian citizens had gone to fight for the militia in Syria. "One hundred and sixty of them have been killed, 73 of them have returned and faced justice, and another 36 have been arrested."
Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, launched airstrikes in Syria in September, saying it targets "terrorists" there.
Moscow has vowed to intensify the campaign after Islamic State claimed responsibility for downing a Russian passenger airliner in Egypt last month.
Russia and a US-led coalition, including France, have separately ramped up airstrikes in the past few days in Syria, mainly in oil-rich areas controlled by Islamic State.
French strikes in Syria this week have destroyed 35 targets linked to the al-Qaeda splinter group, army spokesman Colonel Gilles Jaron said.
Speaking in Paris, Jaron added that a total of about 60 bombs have been dropped in the three raids conducted Sunday-Tuesday, which were aimed against four Islamic State command centres and two training grounds.
France has increased its military action in Syria since Sunday, following the November 13 attacks by Islamic State in Paris, which killed 129 people.
French President Francois Hollande has vowed to "destroy" Islamic State in retaliation to the coordinated bombings and shootings.
On the ground in Syria, al-Assad's troops resumed shelling the rebel-held area of Eastern Ghouta near the capital Damascus shortly after the collapse of negotiations to establish a ceasefire there, monitors reported.
Local activists posted pictures of what they said was damage caused by the shelling in the area on the eastern edge of Damascus. No casualties have yet been reported.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that negotiations, mediated by an unspecified international partner, failed to initiate a 15-day truce in Eastern Ghouta.
A Syrian source close to the regime told dpa that Russia had been involved in the negotiations.
Eastern Ghouta has been the target of government airstrikes by barrel bombs in recent months.
Last week, top diplomats from the United States, Russia and several other countries reached an agreement on a political transition in Syria to end the country's five-year civil war.
Representatives from the Syrian regime and the opposition, fighting to oust al-Assad, should meet by the end of the year to initiate the process.
Under the roadmap laid out by the envoys following talks in Vienna, a transitional government is to be set up within six months and new elections should take place within 18 months.
The fate of al-Assad, remains a sticking point.
Western powers, backing rebels in Syria, have repeatedly demanded al-Assad step down to end the conflict, a position Russia has in the past resisted.
US President Barack Obama Thursday renewed his call for al-Assad's departure.
"It is in my view that it is not going to be sufficient for us to have formal political processes that lead to Assad still being in power," Obama said while attending a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Manila.
"And the reason is not simply because of my opinion of him," he added. "It's because it is unimaginable that you can stop the civil war there when the overwhelming majority of people in Syria consider him to be a brutal murderous dictator. He cannot regain legitimacy."
Al-Assad, in power since 2000, shrugged off foreign calls for him to resign in an interview with Italian TV Rai Uno, aired on Thursday.
"If the Syrians want presidential elections, there will be no red line against it," he said.
More than 250,000 people are estimated to have been killed in Syria's conflict since it started in 2011.
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