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June 14, 2012

U.S. rejects Russia's claims on Syria

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asserted that Russia has been providing the Assad regime in Syria with attack helicopters. (UPI/Kevin Dietsch)

DAMASCUS, Syria (UPI) -- The United States Wednesday rejected claims it is supplying arms to Syrian rebels and accused Moscow of shipping attack helicopters to the Assad regime.

"We do NOT -- repeat NOT -- provide arms to anyone in Syria," State Department spokesman Mark Toner wrote in an e-mail to

The State Department said all U.S. aid is strictly "non-lethal," including humanitarian assistance as well as communications and medical equipment.

The Obama administration Tuesday accused Russia of planning to supply new attack helicopters to Syria and contradict Moscow's claim it was not supporting President Bashar Assad's violent crackdown on dissents.

"We have confronted the Russians about stopping their continued arms shipments to Syria," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Washington at an appearance with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

"They have, from time to time, said that we shouldn't worry -- [that] everything they're shipping is unrelated to their actions internally. That's patently untrue," Clinton said, "and we are concerned about the latest information we have that there are attack helicopters on the way from Russia to Syria, which will escalate the conflict quite dramatically."

Moscow, a longtime Assad ally and arms supplier, had no immediate response to Clinton's remarks.

Russia insists it provides Damascus only with weapons that can be used in self-defense.

Assad claims his forces are defending the country against "foreign-backed terrorists."

Pentagon spokesman Capt. John Kirby said he could not confirm Clinton's assertion but said the Assad regime was already using attack helicopters against the opposition.

The State Department said Clinton was referring to new helicopter deliveries on their way to Syria.

Russian state-controlled arms trader JSC Rosoboronexport intends to fulfill its contract to supply arms to Syria, the agency's No. 2 official said.

"No one can ever accuse Russia of violating the rules of armaments trade set by the international community," Deputy Chief Executive Officer Igor Sevastyanov said in Paris in remarks carried by Russia's RIA Novosti news agency Wednesday.

"The contract was signed long ago and we supply armaments that are self-defense rather than attack weapons, and there can be no talk about any violations by Russia or Rosoboronexport either de jure or de facto," he said in response to a question about whether Russia would continue to carry out its contract to supply Pantsir-S1 short- to medium-range surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery weapon systems to Syria.

"De jure" and "de facto" are used instead of "in law" and "in practice" when describing political or legal situations.

The agency accounts for more than 90 percent of Russia's annual arms sales.

The State Department said Monday Assad may be preparing a fifth civilian massacre in an opposition stronghold in less than three weeks, alleging "a large number of civilians" were trapped in the town of Haffa in the western Syrian Latakia province near Turkey.

As fighting intensified across Syria, the opposition reported Tuesday Assad forces used helicopters to fire on a rebel-held enclave in the northwestern part of the country.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 60 people were killed in the fighting, a third of them government soldiers.

The United Nations released a report Tuesday saying Syrians as young as 8 had been used as human shields by regime soldiers and pro-Assad militia members.

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