Syrians swim in the beach of the Syrian coastal city of Latakia on September 24, 2015, on the first day of the Muslim Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice) holiday. AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH EID
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In a hotel lobby in the Syrian coastal city of Latakia, five muscular Russian men sit around two small tables, scowling and fiddling with their mobile phones.Moscow, a decades-long backer of Damascus, has remained a steadfast ally of President Bashar Assad in Syria's nearly five-year war that has left more than 240,000 people dead.It upped the ante in recent weeks with deliveries of fighter jets, aerial defense systems, drones and other modern military equipment -- some of which has been handed over to the Syrian military. In Latakia, Assad's seaside bastion province, the growing Russian military involvement has received a warm welcome. Latakia is the heartland of Syria's Alawite minority, an offshoot of Shiite Islam from which the Assad clan hails.The flurry of Russian activity, both military and diplomatic, appears to have already prompted a significant shift in global efforts to end Syria's conflict.A senior official in Syria described Russia's military involvement as a "turning point" for the war.
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