Russia’s foreign ministry has admitted that a Russian cargo ship, the MV Alaed, that was stopped off the north coast of Scotland and sent back to Russia was indeed carrying fighter helicopters destined for Syria. The BBC reports that the ship contains Mi-25 helicopters on board which are described as “the property of the Syrian government.” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had accused Russia of supplying Syria with military helicopters; the US has since acknowledged that the helicopters have been refurbished.
The US and UK have said they are willing to offer safe passage to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad as part of a diplomatic effort to address the crisis in Syria. The new initiative was announced after both President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron held bilateral talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 Summit in Mexico. Syria and Russia have been allies since the Cold War and Russia’s support has been considered essential to initiate a diplomatic solution to the uprising in Syria.
The US and UK are considering offering Assad “safe passage” to a conference in Geneva to discuss a transition plan that would possibly be similar to that under which former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh left power. The UK has also expressed willingness to offer Assad clemency though Black points out that this “not quite” the right term:
… unlike Muammar Gaddafi last year, the Syrian president has never been referred to the International Criminal Court – as many believe he should be after 15,000 deaths in the last 15 months. Perhaps “immunity from prosecution” sounds too bald – even for an international community that knows it cannot possibly repeat the one-off Nato-led Libyan intervention and has no other good options available.
The daily reports of terrible violence and an ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria have pushed the US and UK to attempt what the Guardian’s Ian Black describes as a “long shot that depends almost totally on Russian support and smacks of desperation.” But all other efforts, including Kofi Annan’s six-point peace proposal and the presence of almost 300 United Nations monitors, have so far been fruitless.
Shelling continues in the battered central city of Homs, where Red Cross teams are readying to evacuate civilians — the injured, the elderly, a number of Christians – after the Syrian government agreed on Wednesday to a two-hour cease-fire. Rebels hold some neighborhoods in Homs, where fighting has been going on for the past ten days.
Just this morning, a Syrian fighter pilot landed at a military air base in northern Jordan and defected, the BBC reports. Ahmad Kassem, a spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), said it had encouraged the pilot, a colonel, to defect. The Syrian state news agency SANA reported that the military had lost contact with Colonel Hassan Mirei al-Hamadeh while he was in the southern part of the country.
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