Russia Accuses West of Arming Syrian Rebels
February 11, 2012
AntiWar.com & Reuters & Fox News
Russia said on Friday that the West was stoking the conflict in Syria by sending weapons to the opponents of President Bashar al-Assad. In an attempt to deflect criticism of Russia for blocking a U.N. Security Council resolution urging Assad to give up power, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said Western states were stirring up trouble in Syria, where Assad has pursued a violent crackdown since March on protests against his 11-year rule.
Russia: West Arming Syrian Rebels
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(February 10, 2012) -- In comments today to Russian media, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov has accused unnamed Western states of secretly sending arms and advising the Syrian rebel factions, warning the move was fueling a crisis. Ryabkov also condemned NATO and the Arab League for attempting to use the UN Security Council to facilitate a regime change in Syria, saying the council was "not a tool for intervention in internal affairs" and threatening "drastic measures" if the policy continues.
Though there is as of yet no solid proof of any nation arming any rebel factions, the Turkish government has openly backed the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and is providing media access to its leadership through the Turkish Foreign Ministry.
The FSA is made up of defectors from the Syrian military, led by Col. Riad al-Assad. Many of the defectors have made their way out of Syria with weapons taken from barracks, so it is unclear if they even need arms.
Still, while we can't prove that arms are flowing yet, officials have given us reason to believe such aid may be forthcoming. Rep. Steve Chabot (R -- OH), the head of the House subcommittee on the Middle East, is openly calling for armament of the rebels.
Russia Accuses West of Arming Syrian Rebels
Nastassia Astrasheuskaya / Reuters
MOSCOW (February 10, 2012) -- Russia said on Friday that the West was stoking the conflict in Syria by sending weapons to the opponents of President Bashar al-Assad. In an attempt to deflect criticism of Russia for blocking a U.N. Security Council resolution urging Assad to give up power, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said Western states were stirring up trouble in Syria, where Assad has pursued a violent crackdown since March on protests against his 11-year rule.
"Western states inciting Syrian opposition to uncompromising actions, as well as those sending arms to them, giving them advice and direction, are participating in the process of fomenting the crisis," Itar-Tass news agency quoted Ryabkov as saying. He did not specify which nations were arming Syrian rebels.
On Sunday Russia and China vetoed a Western-Arab draft U.N. resolution that called on Assad to quit. That drew U.S. and European criticism which Russia dismissed as hysterical.
Ryabkov, speaking on a visit to Colombia, said Russia would take "drastic measures" if the West kept trying to intervene in Syria's internal affairs through the Security Council. "The U.N. council is not a tool for intervention in internal affairs and is not the agency to decide which government is to be next in one country or another," Ryabkov said. "If our foreign partners don't understand that, we will have to use drastic measures to return them to real grounds."
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who is almost certain to win a presidential election in March, warned the West not to meddle in the affairs of Syria, or those of Russia. Russia's lower house of parliament adopted a statement on Friday condemning the West for "intervening in other states' affairs and imposing outside decisions on them". Some lawmakers in the assembly, which is controlled by Putin's ruling party, called for firmer resistance to the West.
"There is criticism in the Duma that Russia's position on Syria is not strong enough. They say Russia should press its point harder," Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the State Duma Committee on Foreign Affairs, told Reuters.
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Syrian Elites Looking for Way Out, Officials Say
(February 10, 2012) -- Obama administration officials suggested Friday that Syrian elites are starting to prepare exit plans as violence in the country escalates.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland would not go into detail when asked about the movement of elite Syrians, including those considered to be backers of President Bashar Assad. However, she said, "At this point, let me just assert that we are beginning to see this trend accelerate."
Two U.S. officials also told The Associated Press on Friday that one Assad family member has moved large amounts of money out of the country to avoid U.S. and other sanctions on the country and provide a nest egg for a life in exile. Similarly, a senior member of Assad's national security circle has very recently left the country and appears to have settled abroad, they said.
The movement comes as the violence intensifies and the U.S. and its allies mull options for how to rein in the Assad regime.
The military has stepped up its siege of Homs that has reportedly killed hundreds over the past week. Soldiers who have been bombarding the central city made their first ground move, storming into one of the city's neighborhoods. At the same time, troops and security forces opened fire on anti-regime protesters who streamed out of mosques after Friday prayers nationwide. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 27 civilians were killed.
And two suicide car combers struck Syrian security compounds in Aleppo on Friday, killing 28 people, Syrian officials said. State media touted the blasts as proof that the regime faces a campaign by terrorists, not a popular uprising against Assad's rule. The opposition, in turn, accused the regime of trying to smear its movement.
Some lawmakers in Washington have suggested the U.S. consider arming the opposition to help them fight against the better-equipped Assad regime.
The administration has pushed back on that idea, though acknowledges that officials are now looking to work outside the United Nations -- after Russia and China vetoed an anti-Assad resolution at the U.N. Security Council over the weekend.
Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, who chairs the Middle East subcommittee on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told FoxNews.com the U.S. should consider arming the opposition.
"They are essentially completely defenseless right now, and I think that's inhumane," Chabot said.
He also suggested looking at the possibility of what he described as "humanitarian safe zones" -- or defined areas in Syria where civilians could go with the assurance that they would be safe from the violence. However, that would either require cooperation from the Assad regime itself or enforcement by other countries.
Also Friday, the State Department released declassified satellite imagery depicting what intelligence analysts said is heavy weaponry being deployed for use against civilians in or near the Syrian cities of Az Zabadani, Halbun, Rankus and Homs.
The nine photos, said to be taken on Wednesday, showed what were identified as artillery pieces and a rocket launcher pointing toward civilian areas.
"Our intent here is to obviously expose the ruthlessness or the brutality of this regime and its overwhelming predominant military advantage and the horrible kinds of weaponry that it's deploying against its people," Nuland said.
Meanwhile, the U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, who closed the embassy and left Damascus on Monday, said film and photos from those cities prove the government is "using mortars and artillery against residential neighborhoods." He said he was puzzled that some were trying to equate the actions of the opposition with that of the security forces.
"It is odd to me that anyone would try to equate the actions of the Syrian army and armed opposition groups since the Syrian government consistently initiates the attacks on civilian areas and it is using its heaviest weapons," he wrote on the embassy's Facebook page.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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