Russia on Thursday accused Washington of “coordinating” deliveries of arms to Syrian rebels, despite assurances by the State Department that the United States provides no lethal assistance.
“Washington is aware of the deliveries of various weapons to illegal armed groups active in Syria. Moreover, judging by the declarations of U.S. officials published in U.S. media, the U.S. coordinates and provides logistical assistance in such deliveries,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Russia’s top general Nikolai Makarov on Wednesday said rebels fighting against Bashar al-Assad’s army in Syria are using U.S.-made Stingers, a type of shoulder-launched missile systems also known as MANPADs.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland promptly denied that the U.S. is delivering any such, or any other, weapons to the rebels.
“We are providing no lethal assistance to the Syrians,” she said, adding that the only MANPADs sighted by the U.S. in Syria were “Soviet vintage.”
In its statement, the Russian foreign ministry acknowledged that “the U.S. does not deliver MANPADs to the rebels” directly, and did not specify how the alleged logistical assistance is carried out.
Makarov said Russia did not yet know who was bringing the Stingers into Syria, adding it was possible that these and other weapons could have been delivered from abroad on several means of transport, including passenger planes.
“For this, all kinds of transport could be activated, including civil aviation. This is a serious matter,” he said.
Russia is under sustained pressure from the West, Turkey and Assad’s foes in the Arab world to cut its military cooperation with the Syrian regime.
President Vladimir Putin last week defended Russia’s right to trade weapons with whoever it wanted, so long as sales did not break any sanctions from the U.N. Security Council where Moscow has a permanent, veto-wielding seat.
“In all other cases, no one can on any pretext dictate to Russia or any other state with whom and how it should trade,” Putin said.
Moscow has refused to take sides against Assad, condemning the West and Turkey for making clear their support for the rebels battling his regime.
Syrian rebels advance in Aleppo
Syrian rebels seized two northern districts in Syria’s largest city Aleppo on Thursday, activists said, on the eve of a proposed truce for a Muslim religious holiday, according to Reuters.
“We have just liberated Ashrafiyeh and the Syriac quarter,” a rebel fighter said, referring to areas which had been held by Kurdish militias and troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
Rebels were still fighting around the Rahman Mosque district and trying to besiege a security building, he added.
As many as 46 people have been killed by the fire of Syrian forces across the country on Thursday, Al Arabiya reported citing Syrian activists.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group monitoring the Syrian conflict, said Kurdish units were still fighting to stop the rebels from entering Ashrafiyeh.
Battles have engulfed Aleppo since late July, but a stalemate had developed, with snipers restricting movement of fighters and the two sides largely entrenched on frontlines.
Meanwhile, residents in Ashrafiyeh told AFP about 200 rebels had moved in to the area for the first time.
“I saw armed men enter my street with Dushka (heavy machineguns) mounted on their vehicles, where it was written ‘Liwa al-Tawhid,’” a 28-year-old resident said, referring to the Free Syrian Army’s main unit in the embattled city.
“Snipers have set up in the buildings and 50 armed men, dressed in black and wearing headbands with Islamic slogans, entered a school near me. I heard them tell the residents: ‘We are here to spend Eid with you’,” he said.
“I am waiting for things to calm down before leaving,” he said.
Ashrafiyeh sits on city heights and is a route between the central and northern parts of the country’s commercial capital, which has been the theatre of intense fighting between rebels and government troops since mid-July.
In the northeastern province of Raqa, rebels also took control of a military post in a dawn raid, killing three soldiers and seizing arms including a tank, said the Observatory.
Regime forces also bombed rebel bastions northeast of the capital, where three rebels were killed in fighting and three civilians died in shelling.
Fighting erupted in the capital’s southern districts of Qadam and Tadamun, where a car bomb killed eight people the day before, as shells rained on the town of Daraya further south.
And in the central province of Homs, three civilians, including three girls, were killed as the army pummeled rebel-held Rastan and the Khaldiyeh district in Homs city, while two civilians were killed in sniper fire and shelling elsewhere in the province, the watchdog said.
A security official told AFP in early October that the army hoped to eliminate the last pockets of resistance in Homs province to free up troops for battle zones in the north, such as Aleppo.