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Russia halted deliveries of light arms to Syria to avoid exacerbating a conflict between government forces and opposition groups, according to a person close to the Defense Ministry in Moscow.
Prime Minister and President-elect Vladimir Putin’s government ended supplies of weapons including anti-tank missiles and grenade-launchers after reports in January of a Russian shipment of ammunition to Syria provoked criticism from the U.S., the person said by phone today, declining to be identified because the information is confidential. Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said then that Russian arms shipments to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime were of “grave concern.”
Russia has contracts with Syria to deliver ammunition, pistols, sub-machine guns, machine guns, anti-tank missiles and RPGs valued at between $250 million and $400 million, according to the Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a research group in Moscow that advises the Defense Ministry. Vyacheslav Davidenko, a spokesman for Rosoboronexport, Russia’s arms export monopoly, declined to comment on sales to Syria when reached by phone today.
Thirteen months of violence since Assad started a crackdown on an uprising have claimed more than 9,000 lives, according to United Nations estimates. Veto-holding UN Security Council members Russia and China have blocked two moves to condemn Assad, including a February resolution that demanded the Syrian leader’s resignation.
Syria forces conducted raids in a town in Idlib, killing a civilian and heavy fighting and explosions were heard in Daraa, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in e-mailed statements today. Government forces wounded eight people near Damascus and killed two in Homs, the group said. The Syrian army shelled villages near Idlib and killed 13 people today, Al Arabiya reported.
Six Syrian soldiers were killed in a bomb blast in Idlib today, the Syrian Arab News Agency reported without identifying where it go the information. “Terrorists” were behind the blast, the news service said.
Russia said opposition groups were trying to stage provocations against the government to undermine the cease-fire brokered by United Nations special envoy Kofi Annan, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in comments broadcast on state television today. Russia blames outside powers for seeking to undermine the peace effort by arming Syrian opposition groups.
Following a meeting with Annan yesterday, Qatar’s prime minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jasim Bin Al Thani said that the Gulf nation wasn’t supplying weapons to Syrian rebels.
Syria is willing to allow the observers to use its helicopters when necessary to evacuate wounded people, Walid al- Muallem, foreign minister, said today in Beijing. Muallem said 250 UN observers is a “reasonable” number to monitor areas of tension, he said.
Some 57 of the countries belonging to the co-called Friends of Syria group yesterday in Paris discussed efforts to assist the opposition, including the provision of U.S. communications gear, a plan funded by the Gulf states to pay salaries to opposition fighters and coaching by several countries, including the U.S. and U.K., to help fractious anti-government groups become more cohesive, according to European diplomats who aren’t authorized to speak to the media.
Russia in total has about $3.5 billion of arms contracts with Syria, according to Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies data. The orders include Yakhont anti-ship cruise missiles, MiG-29 fighter jets and Pantsir air-defense systems.
Lavrov has rejected U.S. criticism of arms deliveries to Syria, saying Russia wasn’t acting illegally or influencing the outcome of the conflict.
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