Russia's hi-tech S-300 surface-to-air missile system can target aircraft and rockets
A Russian S-300 missile system takes part in a rehearsal for the 2012 Victory Day parade in Moscow. Russia has delivered sophisticated air defence missiles to Syria, President Bashar al-Assad has implied in an interview to be aired on Lebanon's Al-Manar television, the network said. © Kirill Kudryavtsev - AFP/File
Russia's hi-tech S-300 surface-to-air missile system can target aircraft and rockets
AFP
Last updated: May 30, 2013

Assad implies Syria received Russian missiles

Russia has delivered to Syria promised air defence missiles, President Bashar al-Assad implied in an interview to be aired Thursday, in a move that could complicate any foreign intervention in his war-torn country.

Moscow, the Assad regime's most powerful ally, announced this week it intends to honour its contract to supply Syria with the S-300 missiles, prompting fears of the country's more than two-year conflict spreading.

Meanwhile, the opposition National Coalition launched an urgent appeal for the rescue of 1,000 wounded civilians in the central-west town of Qusayr, which Assad's forces and Hezbollah fighters are battling to recapture from rebels.

The developments come against a backdrop of concerns the opposition will fail to agree to attend a peace conference that the United States and Russia have been jointly pushing for in a bid to end a war estimated to have killed more than 94,000 people.

The Assad interview is scheduled to be broadcast on Al-Manar, the channel of the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, his close regional ally, at 1800 GMT on Thursday.

In it, the embattled Syrian leader implicity acknowledged Russia has already delivered some of the S-300 missiles.

Al-Manar said in a statement that when asked about the delivery of the surface-to-air missiles, Assad replied: "All the agreements with Russia will be honoured and some already have been recently."

Russia, Assad's most powerful ally, has yet to confirm if it has already sent the S-300s to Syria, but it announced this week that it intends to honour its contract to supply them.

Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon responded to that by saying his country "will know what to do" if Russia goes ahead with plans to supply Syria with the missiles.

The Jewish state has already launched several air raids inside Syria this year, reportedly targeting convoys transporting weapons to its arch foe Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Russia has defended its arms shipments to Syria, with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov saying the missiles were a "stabilising factor" which could act as a deterrent against foreign intervention.

The S-300s are capable of shooting down warplanes and guided missiles, and are similar to Patriots, which NATO has deployed on the Turkish border with war-torn Syria.

On May 9, the Wall Street Journal reported Israel had warned the United States that Russia's plans to sell Syria the missiles would complicate any foreign intervention in the country.

The Israeli report said Syria had been making payments on a 2010 deal to buy four batteries -- including six launchers and 144 missiles -- from Russia for $900 million (692 million euros), according to the Journal.

On the ground, fighting has centred around Qusayr, the town Assad's forces have been trying to seize back from rebels in an all-out offensive since May 19, backed by Hezbollah fighters.

The opposition National Coalition warned on Thursday that the fierce battle for the town, strategic to both sides for its links to Lebanon and the Mediterranean, has left 1,000 wounded civilians stranded.

"Qusayr has been under constant bombardment," said a Coalition statement, and a "large number of civilians living in the area have been injured due to the assault launched over two weeks ago on the city."

It cited an "acute shortage of doctors, paramedics and first aid kits" and said this "must trigger international relief organisations to respond immediately and save the wounded civilians".

The National Coalition has been recognised by many Western and Arab states as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

It insists any negotiations with the regime must lead to Assad's resignation, a position Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticised on Thursday as unrealistic.

"We are under the impression that the National Coalition and its regional sponsors are doing everything so as not to allow the start of the political process and achieve military intervention in Syria through any means possible," said Lavrov.

"These demands are impossible to fulfil," he said. "The only thing that unites them is a demand of Bashar al-Assad's immediate departure."

Paralysed by internal divisions and conflicting international agendas, the Coalition has yet to decide whether to attend the "Geneva 2" peace conference being pushed by the US and Russia, despite meeting for the past week in Istanbul.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, meanwhile, reported that at least 140 people were killed in fighting across Syria on Wednesday.

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