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Are two aircraft on the tarmac of Moscow airport the first visual sign Russia expects President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to fall?

The giant jets are bound for Beirut to evacuate more than 100 Russians caught in the conflict.

“We are simply helping people who have gone to the Russian consulate in Damascus requesting assistance,” one diplomat explained.

It is unclear if the flights signal the start of a longer evacuation programme. There are around 5,000 Russians registered in Syria.

It has also been reported Russian naval warships are on manoeuvres in the Mediterranean in what is believed to be Moscow’s biggest exercise since 1991.

Some suburbs of Damascus were once again strafed in strikes by government jets. An amateur video posted on a social media website – and so unverified – showed planes attacking the capital.

In the north east of the country it was reported at least 56 people had been killed in separate fighting between the rebels and members of Syria’s Kurdish minority.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said anti-Damascus rebels were using tanks and mortars on the Kurds.

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