YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — Armenia has sent a team of experts to Syria on a Russia-backed mission to help clear mines and provide medical assistance, the Armenian Defense Ministry said Saturday.
The ministry's spokesman, Artsrun Hovhannisyan, said the team of 83 includes de-mining experts, medical personnel and security officers. He said it will defuse mines and provide medical help to residents of Aleppo, in northern Syria, emphasizing that they will stay outside areas of fighting.
Before the war, Aleppo was home to 110,000 ethnic Armenians, one of the world's largest Armenian diasporas. About 22,000 have since moved to Armenia.
Government forces regained control over all of Aleppo in December 2016 after a long, devastating campaign of siege and bombardment against rebels, who had held the eastern side of the city for more than four years.
Russia, which has conducted a military campaign to shore up Syrian President Bashar Assad's government, will transport the Armenian team to Syria and provide logistical support, Hovhannisyan said. Russia is Armenia's main ally and has a military base in the country.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Friday thanked his Armenian counterpart for deploying the mission. "You were the first to respond to our call to provide assistance to the Syrian people," he said.
Some Armenian politicians, however, criticized the move. The Sasna Tsrer party warned in a statement that teaming up with Russia in Syria could hurt Armenia's interests and undermine its security.