QUSAYR, Syria — The Arab League demanded Thursday that Russia stop supplying arms to Syria, as a regime onslaught of Homs and its surrounds appeared to stall a Red Cross bid to rescue trapped civilians.
Also Russia Thursday confirmed for the first time that a cargo ship forced to turn back from British waters was carrying attack helicopters for Syria and said it would now sail under the Russian flag.
“The ship Alaed sailed on June 11 with a cargo including Mi-25 helicopters which are the property of the Syrian side,” said foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich, adding it would return to the port of Murmansk on June 23 to sail under the Russian flag rather than that of the Caribbean island of Curacao.
The pan-Arab bloc’s deputy secretary general Ahmed Ben Hilli issued the appeal in an interview in which he also called for UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s mandate to be revamped, and for Iran’s inclusion in talks on Syria.
“Any assistance to violence must be ceased because when you supply military equipment, you help kill people. This must stop,” Hilli was quoted as telling Interfax news agency in comments translated into Russian.
“To make (the Annan) plan work, we need to find a new mechanism and the mandate of the special envoy must be reassessed, so we can be sure that all the sides are observing the plan,” he said without elaborating.
He backed Iran joining the Syria Contact Group meeting expected to be held in Geneva on June 30, while saying that Tehran’s participation was still at the discussion stage. “In my view, all the players taking part in the Syrian crisis must be part of this contact group,” he was quoted as saying in answer to a question about Iran’s participation.
“The main task at the moment is agreeing the agenda of the first meeting. Then a decision will be taken on who will take part in this conference,” he added.
Russia has steadfastly resisted Western pleas to help remove Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad from power despite the escalating hostilities that have battered Annan’s UN-backed peace initiative.
“We believe that nobody has the right to decide for other nations who should be in power and who should not,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday after a G20 summit in Mexico.
On the ground, a torrent of heavy mortar and machine-gun fire killed at least four people in and around Homs, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported, a day after nearly 100 people died across the country.
Streaming video from Homs on the bambuser.com website showed smoke billowing from a residential district as the staccato of automatic gunfire was punctuated by the thud of mortar blasts.
At least two civilians were killed in Homs city, the Observatory’s Rami Abdel Rahman said.
The army also battered Qusayr, a town just southwest of Homs, after suffering heavy losses at the hands of anti-regime rebel fighters, a watchdog and a journalist said. — AFP