Russia says missiles deter foreign intervention in Syria
Russia defended its arms deliveries to the Syrian government Tuesday by arguing they deter foreign intervention, a day after the European Union's lifted its arms embargo on Syria, dpa reported.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Russia's shipment of S-300 anti-aircraft missiles acts as a "stabilizing factor" in the 26-month-old conflict.
"We believe that such steps will keep 'some hotheads' from letting the conflict acquiring an international character with outside forces," Ryabkov told journalists in Moscow, the Interfax news agency reported.
The surface-to-air missiles were promised as part of previous contract with Russia, the main supplier of weapons to the Syrian regime.
Ryabkov rejected Western criticism of Moscow's support for Damascus by arguing that there was nothing wrong with supplying arms to a government - whereas it was wrong to arm its opponents.
"The government is entitled to receive arms - and the other side is not," he said, referring to the Syrian opposition.
The European Union decided on Monday to lift its arms embargo against Syria, and on Tuesday US Senator John McCain, a prominent supporter of such policies, visited Syria.
Ryabkov added that the EU decision amounted to a double standard. "You cannot declare your intention to end the bloodshed while at the same time you send arms to further escalate the situation," he said.
Moscow's NATO envoy Alexander Grushko said in separate comments that the move "will only add fuel to the fire."
However, Syrian rebels praised the EU's decision, which was spearheaded by Britain and France, while criticizing the ministers' announcement that they would not supply weapons before August.
"We welcome the decision by the EU countries and we think this is a positive move from the international community," Louay al-Mokdad, the Free Syrian Army's political and media coordinator, told dpa.
"But to wait three months until they decide to start arming the rebels, will give the regime more time to kill the Syrian people. We call on the EU to speed such a move," he said.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the decision would send a "strong signal" to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry met in Paris late Monday to discuss plans for a conference to find a political solution to the ongoing civil war in Syria, which began in March 2011 and has so far killed more than 80,000 people.
Al-Assad's government has said it will join the talks, while the opposition has not reached a decision so far.
Meanwhile, Le Monde newspaper reported that the French government was testing samples it brought back from Syria that point to possible chemical weapons use by the regime.
The samples were taken by Syrian doctors from victims of toxic gas attacks. The paper said it had handed them to the government to be tested by a state institute.
With Damascus and the rebels having accused each other of using chemical weapons, the United Nations has repeatedly called on Damascus to allow UN inspectors to enter the country.
The UN human rights council is considering a resolution put forward by the United States, Turkey and Qatar to censure the Syrian regime for attacking civilians in the besieged town of al-Kussair.
Troops have launched an offensive on the strategic town in a bid to recapture it from rebels.
The text, presented in Geneva on Tuesday, calls on the government to immediately stop attacking civilians and "stresses the need to ensure accountability for those responsible for the massacre" in al-Kussair.
The 47 countries on the UN Human Rights Council are scheduled to take a vote on the matter in a specially convened session on Wednesday.