News / Middle East

Syria's Assad Vague on Delivery of Russian Missile System

Syria's President Bashar al- Assad during an interview broadcast on Al-Manar Television on May 30, 2013.
Syria's President Bashar al- Assad during an interview broadcast on Al-Manar Television on May 30, 2013.
VOA News
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says Russia has begun fulfilling some of its weapons contracts, but he did not say whether those deliveries include components of a controversial air defense system.

Assad spoke Thursday in an interview televised on Al-Manar - a station controlled by the Lebanese Shi'ite militia Hezbollah - a close Assad ally.

Moscow had promised to go ahead with the long-delayed sale of the S-300 air defense system, despite warnings this week from Israel that it would view such a move as a security threat.

Assad said "it is not our policy to talk publicly about military issues," saying the various defense contracts with its longtime ally "have nothing to do" with Syria's ongoing civil war.

On Thursday, as media reports of S-300 deliveries circulated, Israeli newspapers quoted a top Israeli official as saying the Jewish state would respond at a point the S-300 missile system is operational.  The Israeli daily Haaretz quoted National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror as saying it takes between three and six months for such systems to become operational.

Assad also used the Al-Manar interview, recorded earlier this week, to warn that his forces will respond to any future Israeli strikes on his country.  The warning follows Israeli airstrikes earlier this month that Israeli officials said were aimed at suspected missile shipments bound for its arch enemy, Hezbollah.

In other developments, Syria's main opposition coalition said Thursday it will not take part in a U.S. and Russian-proposed peace conference aimed at finding a political solution to the conflict.  The United States and European governments want that solution to include Assad's departure from the presidency.  

Syrian National Coalition officials have said talk of holding such a conference, proposed for Geneva next month, is "meaningless" in light of what they see as ongoing attacks on the Syrian people by Assad's forces and his Hezbollah and Iranian allies.

The Assad government has agreed, in principle, to attend peace talks with the opposition, but analysts say it is far from certain that such talks will materialize.

Rights activists have estimated that the 26-month Syrian conflict has killed at least 80,000 people.

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