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Russia Says It Will Deliver New Air-Defense Systems To Syria Soon


A Russian S-300 surface-to-air missile defense system

The Russian military has said it will soon deliver new air-defense systems to Syria in light of missile attacks launched on alleged Syrian chemical-weapons facilities by the United States, Britain, and France nearly two weeks ago.

Russian General Staff Colonel General Sergei Rudskoi said on April 25 that Moscow will supply Syria with "new missile-defense systems soon," though he did not specify the type of weapons.

His remark follows Russian media reports saying Moscow is considering selling its sophisticated S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to Syria.

In the days since the April 14 Western air strikes, top Russian officials have said they may reconsider a pledge Moscow gave a decade ago not to provide Syria with the S-300 system.

The Western strikes were in retaliation for a suspected chemical-weapons attack in the town of Douma that killed more than 40 people on April 7. The Western allies blamed the incident on President Bashar al-Assad's government.

Russia and Syria denied that Damascus was behind the attack. They also claimed to have shot down most of the Western missiles launched on April 14 -- a claim denied by the Pentagon.

Aside from raising the risk of any future Western missile attacks over alleged chemical-weapons incidents, Russia's move to transfer upgraded air-defense systems to Syria could be seen as threatening to Syria's neighbor Israel.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned on April 24 that if Syria uses Russian-made air-defense missiles against Israel, it will strike back.

"What's important to us is that the defensive weapons the Russians are giving Syria won't be used against us," Lieberman told the Israeli news website Ynet. "If they're used against us, we'll act against them."

Israel has not taken sides in the Syrian civil war, but its air force has carried out dozens of air strikes during the fighting, most of them believed to have been aimed at suspected arms shipments to Hizballah militias allied with Iran.

Israel has recently warned Iran against any moves to augment its military presence in Syria, where Iranian military advisers and militias have long provided critical support to Assad in his seven-year civil war against Sunni rebels.

In February, Israel shot down what it said was an armed Iranian drone that penetrated its airspace from Syria. Israel responded by carrying out air strikes in Syria.

Israel and Russia have maintained close contact to prevent any clashes between their forces in the skies over Syria.

Lieberman told Ynet that Russia already has air-defense systems in Syria. He said Israel is concerned about moves by Iran and Syria, not Russia.

"For several years, we've been constantly in coordination and able to avoid friction with the Russians," he said. "The only ones to act against us are the Syrians."

With reporting by Reuters, AP, RIA Novosti, and TASS
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