Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday accused the US of supplying weapons to Syria’s rebels, worsening the conflict engulfing Moscow’s allied regime in Damascus.
Russia was supplying “anti-air defense systems” to Damascus in a deal that “in no way violates international laws,” Lavrov told a news conference during a brief visit to Iran.
“That contrasts with what the United States is doing with the opposition, which is providing arms to the Syrian opposition which are being used against the Syrian government,” he said.
It was the first time Moscow has directly pointed the finger at Washington. Previously, it had said unidentified “foreign powers” were arming Syria’s opposition.
Lavrov’s accusation followed a charge by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday that she had information Russia was sending “attack helicopters” to Syria, “which will escalate the conflict quite dramatically.”
Asked in the Tehran news conference specifically about the helicopter allegation, Lavrov said only that Moscow was giving Damascus “conventional weapons” related to air defense and asserted that the deal complied with international law.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told reporters last month that Moscow believed “it would be wrong to leave the Syrian government without the means for self-defense.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said in the same news conference with Lavrov that Tehran and Moscow were “very close” on the Syria issue.
Western and Arab nations, he said, “are sending weapons to Syria and forces to Syria, and are not allowing the reforms promised by the Syrian president to be applied.”
Meanwhile, the Syrian government yesterday said it had “cleansed terrorists” out of Al-Haffe, a Sunni enclave feared to be the site of a new massacre.
The rebel Free Syrian Army said its fighters pulled out of Al-Haffe in a tactical move to spare civilians of the beleaguered northwestern village following an eight-day bombardment by regime forces.
As the conflict spiralled to vicious new heights, Turkey reported that 2,500 Syrians had fled across its border in the past 48 hours, saying the numbers had increased amid fresh attacks even targeting UN observers.
Some observers fear the conflict, which the UN’s chief peacekeeper agrees now resembles a civil war, could blow up into a struggle between forces helped by outside nations.
“There is a real risk of it sliding into a proxy war as certain states support the regime or ‘the opposition,’” a Western diplomat said, speaking on condition on anonymity.