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Kremlin begins evacuation of Russians from Syria

Moscow is sending two planes to Lebanon for the evacuation of Russian citizens from Syria as the fighting in the capital Damascus intensifies, marking the first such effort since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad began in March 2011.

The Emergency Situations Ministry said two of its planes will fly to Beirut on Tuesday to carry more than 100 Russians from Syria.

Russia has been a stalwart ally of the Assad regime even as his government became increasingly isolated from most of the international community. It has used its veto power, as a permanent of the U.N. security council, to block three United Nations Security Council resolutions condemning Syria.

Moscow has also supplied Assad's military with helicopters and jets.

Monday's announcement appears to reflect Moscow's increasing doubts about Assad's ability to cling to power and growing concerns about the safety of its citizens.

On Saturday, two shells landed near the Russian embassy, hitting a wedding hall and killing three women, one of the hall's guards said. It was not clear who fired the shells. The area is government controlled.

The Russian embassy, which is along Damascus' central al-Thawra road, is heavily fortified with cement road blocks and the area has been blocked off.

Russia has plans in place to evacuate thousands of Russians from Syria if necessary, the country's foreign ministry said.