US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a joint appearance with Israel’s President Shimon Peres yesterday, accused Russia of sending helicopter gunships to prop up the Syrian government in an escalating conflict with rebels.
Clinton expressed deep concern over Russia’s reported shipment of attack helicopters to the Syrian regime. “Attack helicopters on the way from Russia to Syria will escalate the conflict quite dramatically,” she said. “We have confronted the Russians about stopping their continued arms shipments to Syria,” Clinton stated at the Brookings Institution think tank. “They have, from time to time, said that we shouldn’t worry, everything they are shipping is unrelated to [the Syrian government's] actions internally. That’s patently untrue. And we are concerned about the latest information we have that there are attack helicopters on the way from Russia to Syria, which will escalate the conflict quite dramatically,” she added. Nevertheless, Clinton stressed that the US still supports Kofi Annan’s plan, saying, “We do so because he represents both the United Nations and the Arab League.”
For his part, Peres stated that it is better for Arab nations to deal with the situation in Syria themselves, so that no other countries will be blamed for interventionism. “They are ready, let them take the responsibility, let us support them in any way we can. The Arab league should and can do it,” Peres said.
UN monitors in Syria, deployed as part of the implementation of the Annan plan, have in recent days documented the use of attack helicopters, artillery and tanks. “I think there is a massive increase in the level of violence, so massive indeed that in a way it indicates some change of nature,” Herve Ladsous, head of UN peacekeeping said yesterday. When asked whether the country had slid into a civil war, Ladsous answered, “Yes, I think we can say that… Clearly what is happening is that the government of Syria has lost some large chunks of territory, several cities to the opposition, and wants to retake control.”
Clinton’s comments could cause friction between the US and Russia at a time when the Obama administration is seeking cooperation from Moscow on other fronts. The next round of international talks on Iran’s disputed nuclear programme are scheduled to begin Monday in Moscow, and US and European diplomats are looking to Russia to use its influence with the Iranians during that session.