PARIS — The West, led by the United States and France, is seeking to up the pressure on key Syria ally Russia to stop sending weapons they say Bashar Al-Assad’s regime is using in its bloody crackdown on rebels.
After a 15-month uprising in which observers say at least 14,000 people have been killed, the West has taken aim at Moscow, and in particular its state arms exporter Rosoboronexport.
The French foreign ministry Wednesday called for a “complete halt” of arms exports to Syria, in a veiled charge against Russia, which last year sold almost $1 billion of weapons to Syria, according to campaign group Avaaz.
“We are calling for a complete halt to arms exports to the Syrian regime as asked by joint United Nations-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan before the Security Council last week,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said: “Our intelligence, direct and indirect, shows that there are deliveries.”
The appeal came hours after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Russia of recently sending a shipment of attack helicopters to Syria.
“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.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) says that Russia supplied Syria with 78 percent of its weapons between 2007 and 2011.
But Russia has always argued that it was only supplying Syria with weapons such as air defense systems that could not be used against civilians in the regime’s 15-month standoff with the armed opposition.
During a visit to fellow Syria ally Iran Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in turn accused the United States of supplying weapons to Syria’s rebels.
He insisted that Russia was supplying “anti-air defense systems” to Damascus in a deal that “in no way violates international laws”.
On the ground, while Syrian government helicopters and tanks are pounding the western town of Haffeh and the surrounding villages, ground troops are rounding up young men and looting houses, according to Syrian rebels who have fled to Turkey.
Recovering at a hospital in the Turkish city of Antakya, a wounded Free Syrian Army fighter described the assault on Haffeh by government forces and how he was shot trying to rescue the wounded.
“First, helicopters attack the villages, later the tanks attack, and then at the end soldiers enter the houses, loot them and set fire to them,” said Mohammad, a 25-year-old fighter who had been shot through the shoulder.
At least 50 wounded have been smuggled across the border to Turkey from Haffeh over the past few days but many more are trapped by fierce fighting and those that try to escape are fired on by government forces, according to rebels in the southern Turkish province of Hatay.
The United States this week warned of a “potential massacre” in Haffeh after two reported mass killings in neighboring provinces in the past three weeks. — Agencies