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Russia Confirms Ship Was Carrying Helicopters To Syria

  • RFE/RL

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

Syria's military suffered losses away from the conflict zones in the country on June 21 as Russia confirmed a vessel that was turned back earlier in the week was carrying military equipment to Syria and a Syrian pilot flew his warplane to neighboring Jordan and defected.

The Russian vessel "Alaed" was forced to return to Russia on June 19 after the ship's British insurer canceled coverage of the vessel amid reports it was carrying attack helicopters to Syria.

The ship was off the Scottish coast when it turned around.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed in an interview with radio station Ekho Moskvy that the "Alaed" did have military equipment aboard but repeated earlier comments from the Kremlin that the weapons could not have been used against civilians.

"The ship was carrying air-defense systems, as we've said before, which could be used only for repelling foreign aggression and never against peaceful demonstrators," Lavrov said. "And yes, it was carrying three repaired helicopters."

Lavrov explained that the helicopters, which he said were the "property of the Syrian side," were repaired in Moscow as part of a deal signed several years ago.

"The repair contract for these Soviet-made helicopters had been signed in 2008. They underwent a major overhaul [in Russia]," he said. "They were carried disassembled on board that vessel and would have taken another three months to be assembled on arrival."

Lavrov also lashed out at the "unreliability" of the British insurer Standard Club and the British insurance system.

"Contracts and agreements must be fulfilled, that is an irrefutable truth," Lavrov said.

The Standard Club said on June 19 that it could not insure the "Alaed" because it was carrying military equipment to Syria in breech of company rules.

Lavrov also said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "will not leave" since "at least one-half of the Syrian population voted for him, his party, and his policies."

Meanwhile, a Syrian military pilot landed his warplane in Jordan, where he was granted asylum.

Jordanian Minister of Information Samih al-Maaytah confirmed the news in Amman.

"Today at 10:45 Amman time, a MiG-21 jet fighter of the Syrian Air Force landed at an air base [in Jordan]," he said, "and the pilot asked for political asylum in Jordan."

Jordan later named the pilot as Colonel Hassan Merei al-Hamade.

The Syrian government denounced the pilot and state television cited the Defense Ministry as saying, "The pilot is considered a deserter and a traitor to his country."

The Syrian government said it wants the warplane returned.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP

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