Syria's Assad tells Putin he is saddened over Russian plane crash

People pay tribute to passengers and crew members of Russian military Tu-154 plane crashed into the Black Sea, near a makeshift memorial outside the headquarters of the Alexandrov Ensemble, also known as the Red Army Choir, in Moscow, Russia December 25, 2016. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al Assad told Russia on Sunday he was saddened by the crash of a Russian military plane on its way to Syria but the countries’ fight against Islamist militants would not be affected.

In a condolence message sent to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Assad said the two countries were partners in the “fight to lay the foundations of stability, security and peace” in Syria.

“Our prayers are with you ... our sorrows and joys are one,” Assad told Putin.

“The plane had dear friends who had come to join us and the people of Aleppo in their joy with victory and Christmas feasts.” Russian-backed Syrian forces ousted the last rebels from the city of Aleppo on Thursday after years of fighting.

The TU-154 carrying 92 people, including dozens of Red Army Choir singers, dancers and orchestra members, crashed into the Black Sea on its way to Syria on Sunday, killing everyone on board, Russia said.

Russian jets have, since the rebel pullout, resumed heavy bombing of rebel-held Aleppo countryside and also the northwestern Idlib province where Islamist rebels are the dominant force, rebels and a war monitor said.

With Russian air cover, pro-government Iranian backed militias kept up pressure on rebels in southwestern rural fringes of Aleppo late on Saturday, rebels said.

Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Robin Pomeroy