The Latest: Russia sending sappers to Syria's Palmyra

The Latest on Syria's complex civil war (all times local):

6:30 p.m.

Russia says it has sent combat engineers to help clear mines in Palmyra, the ancient Syrian town where government forces backed by Russian airstrikes drove out the Islamic State group over the weekend.

The Defense Ministry said Wednesday that the sapper units airlifted to Syria are equipped with an array of equipment, including state-of-the art robotic devices, to defuse mines at the town's 2,000-year old archaeological site.

Russian television stations broadcast the footage of combat engineers boarding a military transport plane at an air base outside Moscow. The team included sniffer dogs.

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial drawdown of Russian warplanes from Syria earlier this month, but he said that Moscow will continue to strike IS and the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front.


12:45 p.m.

Syria's state-run news agency says President Bashar Assad has sent a message to the U.N. secretary-general reiterating his readiness to cooperate with all "sincere" efforts to fight terrorism.

Assad also thanked Ban Ki-moon for the U.N. chief's statements welcoming the Syrian army's recapture of the town of Palmyra and its world-famous archaeological site from Islamic State militants. SANA says the message was sent on Wednesday.

Ban had said on Sunday that the world body is "encouraged and fortunate" that Syrian troops retook Palmyra.

SANA says Assad also urged the U.N. chief to support the Syrian government efforts in rebuilding Palmyra.

Assad is also quoted as saying his country is ready to cooperate with all "sincere and serious" efforts to fight terrorism.