(RIA Novosti) - A cargo plane with equipment for Russian combat engineers in Lebanon, who will help the war-ravaged country restore its destroyed infrastructure, took off Tuesday from an air base near Moscow, the Russian Air Force's commander said.
Israeli military operations against the Lebanon-based radical group Hizbollah in late July-early August claimed the lives of over 1,000 Lebanese civilians, forced nearly a quarter of the country's population to flee, and demolished some 100 bridges and 60 highways. The total damage inflicted is estimated in the billions of dollars. About 160 Israelis also died.
"The Russian Air Force An-124 Ruslan (NATO classification: Condor) heavy-lift transport airplane took off at 8 a.m. (4 a.m. GMT)," General of the Army Vladimir Mikhailov said.
He said a total of 80 metric tons of equipment, nine vehicles and 17 servicemen are on board. The Tu-154 plane with 130 combat engineers is set to depart from Chkalovsky air base at 1 p.m. Moscow time (9 a.m. GMT).
"Russian Air Force transport planes will conduct six flights to Lebanon in three days, starting October 3," Mikhailov said. "A total of 130 tons of equipment and 300 servicemen from a combat engineer battalion will be delivered."
The Russian ship Yury Arshenevsky, which left the Black Sea port of Novorossiisk October 1 with combat engineers and equipment to erect six bridges, is scheduled to arrive at El-Jiya, a port in southern Lebanon, October 4 or 5.
Russia's deputy prime minister and defense minister Sergei Ivanov earlier said that Russia's contingent in Lebanon will not participate in the UN peacekeeping group, but will operate on the basis of bilateral agreements between the Russian and Lebanese governments.
The UN is presiding over humanitarian efforts and is to deploy 15,000 peacekeepers in southern Lebanon to ensure a ceasefire after month-long fighting between Hizbollah and Israel.
Russia has already provided $2 million worth of aid to Lebanon during the crisis, when it sent four aircraft with goods requested by the Lebanese government to Cyprus, where they were passed on to UN workers for delivery to Lebanon, reports Trend.