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New weapons push Syrian crisis toward civil war

Hillary expresses frustration,says the US believes Russia was shipping attack helicopters to Syria

Written by New York Times | Washington | Published: June 14, 2012 12:27:15 am

MARK LANDLER & NEIL MacFARQUHAR

With evidence that powerful new weapons are flowing to both the Syrian government and opposition fighters,the bloody uprising in Syria has thrust the Obama administration into an increasingly difficult position as the conflict shows signs of mutating into a full-fledged civil war.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday that the United States believed that Russia was shipping attack helicopters to Syria that President Bashar al-Assad could use to escalate his government’s deadly crackdown on civilians and the militias battling his rule.

Her comments reflected rising frustration with Russia,which has continued to supply weapons to its major Middle Eastern ally despite an international outcry over the government’s brutal crackdown.

“We have confronted the Russians about stopping their continued arms shipments to Syria,” Clinton said at an appearance with President Shimon Peres of Israel. “They have,from time to time,said we shouldn’t worry; everything they’re shipping is unrelated to their actions internally. That’s patently untrue.”

Russia insists that it provides Damascus only with weapons that can be used in self-defense.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday strongly rejected talk of civil war,describing the conflict instead as a “war against the armed groups which chose terrorism as their way to achieve their objectives and conspire against the present and future of the Syrian people,” according to a statement quoted by the state-run SANA news agency.

In the latest reports from the frontlines of the swirling conflict,the activist Syrian Observatory for Human Rights,based in Britain,on Wednesday said rebel forces had pulled out of villages around the besieged northwestern town of Al Heffa,where a team of United Nations ceasefire monitors retreated on Tuesday when hostile crowds struck their vehicles with stones and metal rods,said a spokeswoman.

Shortly after the reported retreat,Syrian government forces claimed to have overrun the area. SANA said the authorities had “restored security and calm,” killing “many” rebels,arresting others and capturing “huge amounts of advanced weapons” including sniper rifles,explosives,ammunition and rocket-propelled grenades. An unspecified number of government soldiers were killed or wounded,SANA said. It is usually difficult to verify reports of developments on the ground.

Russia denies sending attack copters to Syria
Moscow:
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has rejected the claim made by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Moscow was sending attack helicopters to Syria.

Lavrov said during a visit to Iran that Russia was completing earlier weapons contracts with Syria exclusively for air defense systems.

AP

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