Russia Denies Its Troops Are in Syria, Accused of Stalling For Assad
Russian officials are denying reports that one of their warships is now docked in the Syrian port of Tartus, along with a force of Russian antiterrorism marines. A Defense Ministry spokesman is claiming that (says the New York Times, quoting the Interfax news service) he was “perplexed by the report, which he said might have referred to the Iman,” a Russian tanker that has been docked in Tartus for the past ten days.
The confusion surrounding the tanker and the accounts of Russian troops in Syria characterizes reports about the year-long uprising, which has become increasingly violent. The recent release of a cache of over 3,000 emails attributed to President Bashar al-Assad and his wife, Asma, among others, has shed some light on the regime and its lack of concern as thousands have been killed, wounded and starved in the country’s cities. The luxurious shopping preoccupations of Asma al-Assad have led to calls to put her on the EU sanctions list.
Explosions in Damascus
The West Villas of Damascus’ Mezze district is a wealthy enclave where businesspeople of differing ethnic backgrounds and political beliefs live and where the United Nations has offices and diplomatic residences. Syria’s capital was relatively quiet during the year-long uprising until December, when two explosions went off. On Monday around 2 am, the area was rocked by explosions followed by automatic weapons fire and helicopters strafing the area with searchlights. According to the New York Times, Monday’s fighting is the “most intense” seen by activists and residents in the area so far.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group based in London, said that at least 18 members of the government’s security forces had been killed.
The clashes between Syrian troops and armed defectors from the army are further signs that the armed uprising has expanded into Syria’s largest cities. Damascus and also Aleppo, Syria’s second largest city, were both struck by bombs last week that left dozens dead and more wounded.
Syrian Opposition Accused of Abuses
New York-based Human Rights Watch reported on Tuesday that Syria’s armed insurgents have committed a number of abuses including “kidnapping, detention and torture of security force members, government supporters and people identified as members of pro-government militias, called shabiha.” Not surprisingly SANA, Syria’s state news agency, has seized on the report, while it has ignored previous reports detailing abuse by the regime; Assad has claimed throughout the uprising that “armed terrorists,” “thugs” and “foreign conspirators” are responsible for the violence and unrest.
The attacks in Damascus coincide with the arrival of a team of observers sent by Kofi Annan, the special representative on Syria for the United Nations and the Arab League. Annan is seeking a diplomatic solution to end the violence in Syria by getting the government and opposition to negotiate. Russia has seemed to give its support to Annan’s peace plan but Hayes Brown of UN Dispatch argues that this is simply yet another — yet again — a “stalling tactic.”
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