Russia denies Clinton helicopter claims
Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov rebuffs allegation by US secretary of state over helicopters shipped to attack rebels
Russia has rebuffed US accusations that it is supplying armed helicopters to Syria as the regime of President Bashar al-Assad reported that its forces had defeated rebels in Latakia province.
Sergei Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, flatly denied a claim by his US counterpart Hillary Clinton that the aircraft were being delivered. Lavrov 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," 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 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.
In violence on the ground the Syrian Revolution General Commission meanwhile reported 34 people killed across the country on Wednesday, mostly in shelling of Homs, Deraa and Deir ez-Zor.
Britain's foreign secretary William Hague, is to discuss Syria with Lavrov in a meeting in Pakistan on Thursday and will raise Russia's role in the crisis.
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. But I think what we are trying to say is that its on the edge of something even worse."
France's foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, meanwhile echoed a senior UN official in stating explicitly that Syria was now in a state of "civil war". Fabius also said he would call on the UN security council to make mediator Kofi Annan's Syria peace plan mandatory. Annan's six-point plan is all but dead in the absence of a ceasefire or the implementation any of its other elements.
Tuesday's statement by Herve Ladsous, the UN's head of peacekeeping operations, was rejected out of hand by both the Syrian opposition and government.
The Syrian Revolution General Commission, an opposition body, complained that Ladsous's view "does not reflect the reality and does not represent the Syrian people". The announcement, it said, "makes the killer and the victim equal and ignores all the massacres committed by the Assad regime". It also masked "the real demands of the Syrian people who are only asking for freedom and dignity".
There was agreement, for different reasons, from the foreign ministry in Damascus: the remarks by Ladsous, it said, "did not reflect the reality" of what it happening in Syria. That is "war against armed groups that have chosen terrorism".
Syrian state TV reported that government forces have retaken control of the Haffa region near the Mediterranean coast after eight days of shelling and clashes. Hundreds of FSA fighters were believed to have been holed up there and pulled out after intense fighting.
guardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds