(Reuters) – Syria has received the first shipment of an air defense system from Russia, President Bashar al-Assad was quoted as saying, sending a signal of military strength days before an EU arms embargo on the war-torn country lapses.
More of the missiles would arrive soon, he was quoted as saying.
Russia has said it would deliver the missile system to the Syrian government over Western objections, saying the move would help stabilize the regional balance.
A staunch ally of the Assad government, Moscow has appeared to grow more defiant since the European Union let its arms embargo on Syria expire, opening up the possibility of the West arming the rebels battling to topple the president. The embargo lapses on June 1.
A Shi’ite anti-government protester holds up a poster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a demonstration against Israeli air strikes in Syria, in Sanaa May 10, 2013.
Credit: Reuters/Khaled Abdullah
More than 80,000 people have died in Syria since peaceful protests against four decades of Assad family rule led to a civil war that has pitted the president’s forces and his ally, Hezbollah, against Syrian rebels and a flow of Sunni Islamist militants who have come to help them from abroad.
Moscow says the lapsing of the EU embargo complicates U.S. and Russian-led efforts to set up a peace conference between the Syrian government and its opponents, who want an immediate end to four decades of Assad family rule.
The Syrian leader said he planned to go to the “Geneva 2” conference, al-Akhbar reported, though he was unconvinced of a fruitful outcome and said he would continue to fight the militants.
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