Last Updated: Wed Jun 13, 2012 14:56 pm (KSA) 11:56 am (GMT)

Syria denies being in ‘civil war’ as over 2,000 refugees cross into Turkey

The regime of President Bashar al-Assad claims it is fighting terrorists in Syria. (AFP)
The regime of President Bashar al-Assad claims it is fighting terrorists in Syria. (AFP)

Syria is not in civil war but is fighting “terrorists,” the foreign ministry said on Wednesday, expressing “surprise” at statements made the day before by U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous, amid reports that around 2,000 Syrians have crossed into Turkey to escape violence at their homeland.

“Talk of civil war in Syria is not consistent with reality... what is happening in Syria is a war against armed terrorist groups plotting against the future of the Syrian people,” the ministry said.

He criticized Ladsous and said U.N. officials should remain “neutral, objective and precise.”

“It is the duty of the Syrian authorities to address these crimes and assert control throughout the country,” the ministry said.

Syria “has not descended into civil war, but rather is witnessing a struggle to eradicate... murders, kidnappings and bombings against state institutions and the destruction of public and private property,” the statement added.

“Syria reaffirms its respect for the Annan plan and its readiness for its implementation,” it said, referring to the tattered six-point peace plan of international envoy Kofi Annan.

It urged regional powers and the international community to “stop any military or financial support for terrorist groups” operating in Syria and called on the United Nations to take a “decisive stand against the crimes committed by armed groups”.

When asked on Tuesday whether he believed Syria was in a civil war, the U.N. peacekeeping chief had told reporters: “Yes I think we can say that.”

“Clearly what is happening is that the government of Syria lost some large chunks of territory, several cities to the opposition, and wants to retake control,” he added.

Syrians seeking shelter in Turkey

During the past 48 hours, meanwhile, about 2,000 Syrians fleeing violence in their homeland have crossed into Turkey, a significant increase in the number of Syrian refugees now taking shelter in Turkey, the foreign ministry said on Wednesday.

Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal said the latest wave of arrivals had brought the total number of Syrian refugees in Turkey to about 29,500, the highest taking shelter in Turkey at one time since the start of the uprising some 15 months ago.

Among the 2,000 new refugees were 43 wounded people who have been hospitalized in Turkey, Unal said.

Turkey has given shelter to more than 50,000 Syrians since March 2011 but thousands have since returned to their homes in Syria.

Meanwhile, and amid the increased violence in the country, France called for a complete halt to arms sales to Syria after growing Western criticism of Russian weapons exports to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

“We are calling for a complete halt to arms exports to the Syrian regime,” French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said, after the United States accused Moscow of supplying the regime with attack helicopters.

Russia’s arms export agency said Wednesday its deliveries to Syria were in line with U.N. regulations but declined to comment specifically on U.S. claims that it was sending attack helicopters to the regime.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday accused Russia of recently sending the shipment to its Soviet-era ally.

“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,” Clinton told a think-tank discussion in Washington.

Rosoboronexport “does not supply weapons and military technology in contradiction with U.N. Security Council requirements and other international agreements,” a spokesman told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency.

The news report said the agency spokesman “did not comment” when asked about the specific U.S. charges.

Russia has always argued that it was only supplying Syria with weapons such as air defense systems that could not be used against civilians in the army’s 15-month standoff with the armed opposition.

Several senior military analysts said Clinton may have been referring to helicopters that Moscow sold to Syria in the Soviet era and that were now undergoing repairs under contract in Russia.

They added that Moscow’s last helicopter sales contract with Damascus expired about 20 years ago and was never renewed.

“Military helicopters were supplied on a wide scale in Soviet times. But the last helicopter deliveries occurred in the early 1990s,” Russia’s Arms Exports magazine editor Andrei Frolov told RIA Novosti.

Clinton did not clarify whether the alleged shipments involved a new generation of helicopters that could not have been sold to Syria in the Soviet era.

Moscow Defense Brief editor Mikhail Barabanov said Clinton could only be referring to “some Syrian Mi-24 or Mi-17 helicopters that were sent back to Russia for repairs.”

Speaking about the latest clashes in the town of Haffa and the retreat of the Free Syrian Army late Tuesday night, Syrian state TV says authorities are in control of Haffa after 8 days of clashes.

Syrian forces have “cleansed terrorist groups” from Haffa and restored calm and security.

The rebels said on Tuesday they had withdrawn from Haffa, under pressure of heavy bombardment.

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