Wed, Jan 23, 2013 - Page 7 News List

Russia organizing airlift for citizens to flee Syrian conflict

AFP, BEIRUT and DAMASCUS

Up to 150 Russians are preparing to flee Syria over the next two days on board two planes sent to Beirut from Moscow, a Russian diplomat said yesterday.

The diplomat insisted that the airlift was not the start of an operation to evacuate Russian nationals from Syria.

“There are thousands of Russian citizens in Syria. The issue is that the Russian airline is no longer flying to Damascus, so we are helping some 100, maximum 150 people to leave Syria via Beirut, which is very close,” the diplomat said on the condition of anonymity. “We are simply helping people who have gone to the Russian consulate in Damascus requesting assistance.”

The diplomat downplayed earlier reports that Moscow was evacuating its citizens from Syria.

“This is not an evacuation. There is no pressure at all on Russians in Syria to leave the country, because there are many areas in Damascus which are completely safe and free from violence or any clashes,” the diplomat said.

However, he said that the planes scheduled to leave yesterday and today would not be the last to help Russians flee the strife-torn country.

“It will be an ongoing operation. Whenever enough people request assistance at the consulate in Damascus, we will organize for new planes,” the diplomat added.

His comments came a day after a suicide car bombing in central Syria killed at least 30 people and the Arab League said UN efforts to end the conflict had failed to bring even a “glimmer” of hope.

The suicide bombing that targeted a building used by pro-regime militiamen in Salmiyeh, a town in the central province of Hama, killed more than 30 people, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

State news agency SANA also reported the blast, saying that “a terrorist suicide car bomb was detonated in the heart of Salmiyeh, leaving a number of people killed and others wounded.”

The blast came as Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi said the mission of the international peace envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, had so far not even “yielded a glimmer of hope.”

The head of the 22-member bloc urged the Arab leaders to call “the UN Security Council for an immediate meeting and to issue a resolution enforcing a ceasefire to stop the bloodbath.”

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