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Assad tells Hezbollah TV Russian missiles delivered

AFP

Syria has received its first shipment of air defence missiles from Russia, President Bashar al-Assad implied in a television interview aired on Thursday, in a move aimed at deterring foreign intervention in the more than two-year civil war.

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Syria has received the first shipment of Russian missiles that are part of a more sophisticated air defence system, President Bashar al-Assad told Lebanon’s Hezbollah-owned TV channel in an interview aired on Thursday.

Assad’s comment on the arrival of the long-range S-300 air defence missiles in Syria could further ratchet up tensions in the region and undermine efforts to hold UN-sponsored talks with Syria’s warring sides.

Moscow, the Assad regime's most powerful ally, announced this week it intends to honour its contract to supply Syria with the advanced missiles.

Assad: Russia 'keeping its end of the deal'

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. However, there was no indication any single European country would send lethal weapons to the rebels anytime soon.

The Assad interview was broadcast on Hezbollah channel Al-Manar on Thursday evening.

In the interview, the Syrian president implicitly acknowledged Russia has already delivered some of the promised S-300 missiles.

Al-Manar said 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."

On Thursday, an Israeli minister indicated that the country would only act to prevent the missiles being used against the Jewish state.

"The problem arises when these arms fall into other hands and could be used against us. In that case, we would have to act," said Israeli Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom.

Russia 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 similar to Patriots, which NATO has deployed on the Turkish border with war-torn Syria. They have a range of up to 200 kilometres (125 miles) and the capability to track and strike multiple targets simultaneously.

On the ground, fighting has centred around Qusair, 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 warned that the fierce battle for the town, strategic to both sides for its links to Lebanon and the Mediterranean, had left 1,000 wounded civilians stranded.

"Qusair 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".

More than 70,000 people have been killed in the 26-month-old Syrian conflict that has had increasingly sectarian overtones. Members of Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority dominate the rebel ranks and Assad’s regime is mostly made up of Alawites, an offshoot sect of Shiite Islam.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

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