Russia says EU is ‘fuelling the fire of conflict’ in Syria

Anger over decision not to renew arms embargo as details of massacre of 300 emerge

A Free Syrian Army fighter rides  past revolutionary graffiti  in Deir al-Zor.

A Free Syrian Army fighter rides past revolutionary graffiti in Deir al-Zor.


Russia has voiced loud criticism at the European Union decision not to renew an arms embargo against both the regime in Damascus and forces trying to topple it.

Details also emerged of the scale of a massacre of some 300 people earlier this month by armed forces loyal to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad

The deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov accused the EU yesterday of “fuelling the fire of conflict” by not retaining the arms embargo, which expires effectively on Saturday.

However, he reiterated Moscow’s determination to dispatch to Syria S-300 anti-aircraft missiles, ordered two years ago.

This equipment, he asserted, was a “stabilising factor” for the region.

Israel does not agree and responded yesterday, saying that if the weapons arrived in Syria it would “know how to act”.

Deadline rumour denied
Britain and France – who wanted other EU member states to ease the arms embargo – last night denied claims by unnamed EU officials that they had agreed not to send arms to the region before August 1st.

“I must correct one thing of concern,” said UK foreign secretary William Hague, “I know there has been some discussion of some sort of August deadline. That is not the case.”

A French foreign ministry spokesman, Philippe Lalliot, agreed.

When asked whether France could deliver weapons before August 1st, he simply said: “Yes.”

Rebel forces say they need portable, shoulder-mounted surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles and anti-tank missiles to tip the military balance in their favour.

Reports of the massacre of some 300 people, one of several since the conflict began but, if confirmed independently, one of the worst in the civil war, say it happened early this month in two villages, Ras al-Nabaa and Baida, in western Syria near the Mediterranean coast. Video images circulating yesterday showed streets that appeared to be strewn with the bloodied bodies of civilians.

Border battles
Elsewhere yesterday, fighting continued in the strategic Syrian border town of Qusayr between rebels and the Syrian army backed by fighters from the Lebanese Shia Hizbullah movement.

Syrian rebel commander Selim Idriss gave Lebanon, the Arab League and the UN 24 hours to persuade Hizbullah to withdraw its fighters from Syria before rebels could strike the movement in Lebanon itself.

(Additional reporting, Reuters)