Thu, Oct 06, 2016 - Page 6 News List

Russia puts missile system at Syria port

TENSION ESCALATES:Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook questioned why the S-300 was being deployed as neither the Islamic State group nor other militants have any planes

AFP, ALEPPO, Syria

Civil defense volunteers, known as the White Helmets, search for victims amid the rubble of destroyed buildings following a government airstrike on the rebel-held neighborhood of Bustan al-Basha in Aleppo, Syria, on Tuesday.

Photo: AFP

Russia on Tuesday said it has sent an advanced missile system to the Syrian port of Tartus, as tensions escalate between Moscow and Washington over the five-year conflict.

The announcement came after Washington said it was suspending talks with Moscow aimed at reviving a ceasefire deal over Russia’s support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

On the ground, al-Assad’s forces advanced on rebels during intense street fighting in the opposition-held east of Aleppo, which Russia has been accused of bombing indiscriminately, including targeting hospitals.

The UN rights chief called for action to halt the “ghastly avalanche of violence” unfolding in Syria’s second city, which is reeling from some of the most brutal fighting in the conflict.

Russia, which has denied its strikes have hit hospitals, said it was deploying an S-300 missile system to Tartus on the Mediterranean coast.

“The S-300 is a purely defensive system and poses no threat to anyone,” Russia Ministry of Defense spokesman Igor Konashenkov said. “It’s not clear why the placement of S-300 in Syria has caused such a stir among our Western colleagues.”

Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said the Russian missile system would not affect operations in the US-led air campaign against the Islamic State group in northern Syria and questioned why Moscow was making the move.

“Last I checked, the Russians said that their primary goal was to fight extremism, ISIL and Nusra in Syria,” Cook said, referring to the Islamic State group and another group of militants formerly known as the al-Nusra Front. “Neither one has an air force... So this is something we’ll watch carefully, but it should be clear to the Russians and everybody else operating in Syria how seriously we take the safety of our air crews.”

As well as operating a naval facility in Tartus, Russia runs an air base outside the Syrian coastal city of Latakia, which houses warplanes used in its bombing campaign in support of al-Assad.

In August, a Russian official said Moscow was planning to expand into a permanent military facility at its Khmeimim air base, which already has an S-400 air defense system, its most modern equipment.

Washington announced late on Monday that it would suspend joint efforts to reinstate a nationwide truce, accusing Moscow of abetting al-Assad’s assault on Aleppo.

“Everybody’s patience with Russia has run out,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

A US official said US Secretary of State John Kerry was focused on finding a diplomatic solution, but his talks with Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov were over.

US security and foreign policy chiefs were set to meet yesterday to discuss “diplomatic, military, intelligence and economic options” ahead of a meeting with US President Barack Obama, a US Department of State spokesman said.

“Just because we’ve temporarily suspended the cooperation that we had bilaterally with Russia on Syria doesn’t mean that we’ve closed any doors on multilateral action,” spokesman Mark Toner said.

The Kremlin said it “would like to hope for the presence of political wisdom, and the continuation of exchanges on particularly sensitive issues that are necessary for maintaining peace and security.”

The US-Russia truce plan had envisioned an end to hostilities, increased aid deliveries and eventual coordination in the fight against militants, but it collapsed after a week, with Russia blaming Washington for failing to convince rebels to distance themselves from the militants.

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