Bashar al-Assad: Syria has received S-300 air defence missiles from Russia

Russian officials had said earlier this week that the country would deliver the weapons to Syria

Written by New York Times | Beirut | Published: May 31, 2013 1:03 am

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria said in a television interview to be broadcast on Thursday that Russia has delivered S-300 air defence missiles to his country,weapons that Israel has said present a threat to its security and against which it is willing to use force.

“Syria has received the first shipment of Russian anti-aircraft S-300 rockets,” Assad said in the interview,to be aired on Al Manar,the television channel of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah,which in recent weeks has dramatically increased its military intervention in Syria on the side of Assad’s government. “The rest of the shipment will arrive later today.”

Russian officials had said earlier this week that the country would deliver the weapons to Syria,a move that Assad’s opponents said was a sign that neither Russia nor the Syrian government was serious about proposed negotiations to end the Syrian civil war that Russia and the United States are trying to organize for as early as next month.

The interview with Assad was taped on Tuesday,according to Beirut news director of Iran’s English-language Press TV. That same day,Israel’s defence minister declared categorically that the missile systems had not yet been delivered.

A senior Israeli official on Thursday said the S-300 missile systems “do not just come in a box” and that different elements would probably be delivered in stages. It was possible,he said,because of diplomatic constraints,that some parts had arrived in Syria but he added that there was no indication at this stage that the systems were anywhere near operational.

Both the Syrian government and the opposition have hardened their positions in recent days,casting doubt on the future of the proposed talks as each side declared a starting point that is thoroughly unacceptable to the other.

On Wednesday,the Syrian opposition said Assad’s departure is a prerequisite to talks — a condition his government and Russia reject — while foreign minister said Assad would stay on at least until 2014 and might seek re-election and that any peace agreement would have to be approved by a referendum.

Assad’s statements — and the choice of the Hezbollah channel to deliver them — added to the confrontational atmosphere.

His statements were first reported in the Lebanese paper al-Akhbar and confirmed by Ali Rizk,who performed the simultaneous translation of the interview to be aired on Iran’s Press TV channel. Rizk said the interview had been taped Tuesday.

Late Wednesday,Lebanon’s president,Michel Suleiman,a political ally of Hezbollah,issued an unusual statement calling on Hezbollah to pull out of Syria for the sake of Lebanese security and the integrity of the group’s primary mission,fighting Israel.

A spokesman for Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office,who asked not to be identified in line with government policy,said,“This is an unhelpful decision by the Russians,supplying to a regime that has shown itself to be incapable of using its weapons systems proportionately or discriminatingly.”

Syria oppn won’t be part of talks

BEIRUT: Syria’s main Western-backed opposition group Thursday said it will not participate in US-Russian sponsored peace talks on Syria while massacres are underway in the country,dealing a blow to international efforts to end the devastating civil war. A spokesman for the Syrian National Coalition,Khalid Saleh,also said the group will not support any international peace efforts in light of Iran’s and Hezbollah’s “invasion” of Syria.

Turkey returns fires at Syria

ANKARA: Turkey’s military on Thursday returned fire after shots were fired at an armoured personnel carrier from across the border with Syria. A military statement said a group of around three to five people from across the border fired up to 15 shots toward the vehicle that was patrolling an area near the Orontes river,on the frontier. Turkish state-run TRT television said no one was wounded and the military said the group escaped and “disappeared from view” when it fired back.

ANNE BARNARD/AP

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