U.S. denies supplying weapons to Syrian rebels

SOURCE: Human Rights Watch

The State Department today denied allegations by Russia’s Foreign Ministry that the United States is supplying weapons, including Stinger missiles, to the Syrian opposition. 

“We’ve been very clear that we are not providing any lethal assistance ourselves,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

She emphasized that the U.S. remains focused on providing non-lethal assistance (such as communications equipments) to the Syrian opposition and humanitarian aid to help the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing the violence.

In addition, the U.S. is continuing efforts to help organize the Syrian opposition for a peaceful, democratic transition from President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Russia’s state-owned news agency, RIA Novosti, reported on Wednesday that Syrian rebels are being equipped with man-portable air defense systems or MANPADS. Russian Army General Nikolai Makarov claimed that there is “reliable evidence” that the rebels have obtained “U.S.-made Stinger” missiles.

“Arming the Syrian rebels with such a dangerous weapon as MANPADS, or sanctioning such actions, would be a most dangerous act,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich.

However, a day later, Lukashevich issued a statement conceding that “the United States is not supplying man-portable air-defence systems to rebels in Syria” but accused the U.S. of “conducting coordination and providing logistical support” to arm the Syrian rebels with other countries.

Nuland dismissed Russia’s accusations, saying “the implication that we are coordinating shipments of other people’s weapons is ludicrous.”

“We have made a choice only to provide non-lethal assistance. Other countries have made a different choice. We coordinate with all of those countries, particularly on this issue of ensuring that we are vetting well who are we – who we are working with, and making sure that we are not inadvertently supporting extremists. But this notion that we are coordinating the military assistance of other countries is ludicrous,” said Nuland.

Russia’s accusations were lodged less than two weeks after Turkey grounded a Syria-bound commercial airplane carrying “Russian-made munitions”.

Last week, Human Rights Watch released videos showing what appeared to be “Soviet-made” cluster bombs used by the Syrian military against rebel forces and civilians.

“The weapons are extremely dangerous for the civilian population and children. They first detonate in the air and they release bomblets over large areas – sometimes dozens, hundreds of them over an area the size of a football field,” said Philippe Bolopion, U.N. Director for Human Rights Watch. “Our researchers have confirmed that the cluster munitions…in the videos are RBK-250, which is a Soviet-made cluster munition. It’s obviously quite old. We are not sure how it ended up in Syria.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has denied supplying Syria with cluster bombs.

“It is very difficult to establish from where and how ammunition and weapons are supplied there,” said Lavrov. “There are loads of weapons in this region, including in Syria and other countries of the region, and arms are supplied there in large quantities and illegally.”

Human Rights Watch has called on the Syrian government to stop the use of cluster bombs, which are banned by most countries around the world. The Syrian military has denied using such weapons.

 

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