Russia is sending two planes to Beirut today to evacuate more than 100 of its citizens from Syria, it was announced yesterday.

A ministry spokeswoman said: "On orders from the leadership of the Russian Federation, the Emergencies Ministry is send- ing two airplanes to Beirut so that all Russians who want can leave Syria.

"It is planned that more that 100 Russians will leave Syria [on these planes]," she said.

Loading article content

Russia has been Syrian President Bashar al Assad's main foreign protector during a 22-month uprising against his rule and is its biggest arms supplier.

A number of citizens from Russian companies that have a presence in Syria still live there.

Moscow is carrying out what it has called the largest naval exercise in years off the coast of Syria. Russian agencies have previously said those ships could be used in evacuation efforts.

Meanwhile, Syrian opposition leaders failed to agree on a transitional government to run rebel-held areas, dealing a fresh blow to their efforts to present a credible alternative to Mr Assad.

The Syrian National Coalition said a five-member committee would put forward proposals on forming a government within 10 days, after talks in Istanbul broke up without agreement.