BEIRUT, Lebanon: The first group of Russian citizens to be evacuated from Syria arrived in Lebanon Tuesday.
Russia said Monday it would send two planes to Lebanon to evacuate its citizens from war-torn Syria.
The planes arrived at Rafik Hariri International Airport at around 3 p.m. to fly the Russians home, according to a source at Beirut airport.
The move is the strongest sign yet that President Bashar Assad's most important international ally has serious doubts about his ability to cling to power.
Russian officials said Monday that about 100 Russian nationals residing in Syria will be evacuated through Lebanon and flown home.
They also said thousands more could follow - many of them Russian women married to Syrians - and later evacuations could be by both air and sea.
Russia has been Assad's main ally since the uprising against him began in March 2011, using its veto power in the U.N. Security Council to shield Damascus from international sanctions for brutal crackdown on dissent.
Assad has dismissed calls that he step down, claiming that the country is fighting Islamic extremists and terrorists. He has proposed a national reconciliation conference, elections and a new constitution, but the opposition insists he play no role in a resolution to the conflict.
Last month, Russia started distancing itself from Assad, with President Vladimir Putin saying that he understands Syria needs change and that he was not protecting the Syrian ruler. – With AP