Moscow rejects claim of supplying Assad helicopters


RUSSIA REBUFFED US accusations that it was supplying armed helicopters to Syria as Bashar al-Assad’s regime said its forces had defeated rebels in Latakia province.

Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, yesterday flatly denied a claim by his US counterpart, Hillary Clinton, that the aircraft were being delivered. He made clear that the supply of what he called “anti-air defence systems” was legitimate.

The US in turn denied Russian claims that it was arming anti-Assad rebels.

“We are not violating any international law in performing these contracts,” Mr Lavrov said during a visit to Iran.

“They [the US] are providing arms and weapons to the Syrian opposition that can be used in fighting against the Damascus government.”

The sharp public exchanges on Syria began on Tuesday when Mrs Clinton warned that Russian helicopters would “escalate the conflict quite dramatically”.

Evidence is mounting that the Free Syrian Army, the opposition’s main armed wing, has started receiving more and better weapons from Saudi Arabia and Qatar that are being delivered via the Turkish border. The US has been described as “co-ordinating” those efforts.

On the ground, the Syrian Revolution General Commission reported 34 people killed across the country yesterday, mostly in the shelling of Homs, Deraa and Deir ez-Zor.

The British foreign secretary, William Hague, is to discuss Syria with Mr Lavrov in Pakistan today and will raise Russia’s role in the crisis.

Mr Hague said: “Syria is on the edge of a collapse or of a deadly sectarian civil war. Of course there is room for debate about what constitutes a full civil war . . . What we are trying to say is that it’s on the edge of something even worse.”

France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, echoed a senior UN official in stating explicitly that Syria was now in a state of civil war.

The statement by Hervé Ladsous, the UN’s head of peacekeeping operations, was rejected by both the Syrian opposition and government.

The Syrian Revolution General Commission complained that Mr Ladsous’s view “does not reflect the reality and does not represent the Syrian people”. The announcement “makes the killer and the victim equal and ignores all the massacres committed by the Assad regime”.

Syrian state television said government forces had retaken control of the Haffa area in Latakia, near the Mediterranean coast. – (Guardian service)