Double blow to Syrian peace hopes

Assad announces arrival of Russian missile shipment as rebel group rules out peace talks

PUBLISHED : Friday, 31 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 31 May, 2013, 4:47am


Syrian President Bashar Assad said the regime has received the first shipment of sophisticated Russian anti-aircraft missiles, while the main Western-backed opposition group announced yesterday that it would not participate in peace talks.

The developments are a double blow to international efforts to end the country's civil war.

Assad's comment on the arrival of the long-range S-300 air defence missiles in Syria, which was made in an interview with Lebanon's Hezbollah-owned TV station, could raise tensions in the region and undermine any efforts to hold peace talks.

Israel's defence chief, Moshe Yaalon, said earlier this week that Russia's plan to supply Syria with the weapons was a threat and that Israel was prepared to use force to stop the delivery.

"Syria has received the first shipment of Russian anti-aircraft S-300 rockets," Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV quoted Assad as saying. The Syrian leader added: "All our agreements with Russia will be implemented and parts have already been implemented."

An official at the station confirmed the remarks were from the exclusive interview the TV was to air in full later yesterday.

The shipment of the missiles, if confirmed, comes just days after the European Union lifted an arms embargo on Syria, paving way for individual countries of the 27-member bloc to send weapons to rebels fighting to topple Assad's regime.

Meanwhile, the Syrian National Coalition's decision not to attend US-Russian sponsored talks with representatives of the Assad regime torpedoes the only plan for trying to end Syria's two-year conflict that the international community had been able to agree on.

"The talk about the international conference and a political solution to the situation in Syria has no meaning in light of the massacres that are taking place," a spokesman for the Syrian National Coalition, Khalid Saleh, said in Istanbul, where the opposition has been holding week-long deliberations on a strategy for the Geneva talks.

He said the group would not support any international peace efforts in light of Iran's and Hezbollah's "invasion" of Syria.

Saleh was referring to the increasingly prominent roles of Iran and the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group in backing Assad's forces on the ground.

"The National Coalition will not participate in an international conference and will not support any efforts in light of Iran's malicious invasion of Syria," he added.

The 26-month Syrian conflict has increasingly spilled across borders, with the latest incident occurring in Turkey yesterday.

Turkey's military returned fire after shots were fired at an armoured personnel carrier from across the border with Syria.

A military statement said a group of about 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.

Turkey has repeatedly struck back at the Syrian military in response to shelling and mortar rounds that landed on Turkish territory.