Insurgents have fired two shells at the Russian embassy in the Syrian capital as hundreds of pro-government supporters gathered outside the compound to thank Moscow for its intervention in Syria.
Crowds were gathered outside the embassy when the first shell slammed into the compound in central Damascus and smoke billowed from inside. As people started running away, another shell hit the area. It was not immediately clear if there were casualties.
Opposition fighters in the suburbs of the capital have targeted the embassy in the past, but it was not clear if today’s attack targeted the rally.
Before the shelling, the demonstrators had gathered outside the embassy carrying posters of the Russian and Syrian presidents, Vladimir Putin and Bashar Assad, and waved the two countries’ flags.
Some held placards that read: “Thanks Russia” and “Syria and Russia are together to fight terrorism”.
“President Putin’s stances were absolutely positive for Syria,” said 39-year-old civil servant Nizar Maqssoud.
Student Osama Salal, 18, said: “All the West stood against us. Only Russia backed us . we are all here to thank Russia and President Putin.”
Russia began launching airstrikes against insurgents in Syria on September 30.
Russia insists it is mainly targeting the Islamic State group and other “terrorists,” but the multi-pronged ground-and-air offensive is being waged in areas controlled by US-backed rebels as well as other insurgents including Nusra Front.
Earlier, Syria’s al Qaeda affiliate released an audio message purportedly from its leader, describing Russian military intervention as a new “Crusader campaign” aiming to save Assad’s rule.
The Nusra Front leader known as Abu Muhammed al-Golani called on Syrian militant and rebel groups to unite and intensify shelling of villages inhabited by members of Assad’s minority Alawite sect.