Russian aid flights to Syria carry military equipment

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov confirms arms on flights, but spokesman declines to say whether troops have been sent.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has confirmed that the country's "humanitarian" flights to Syria carry military equipment as well as humanitarian aid - after the US and NATO warned Moscow over its involvement in the Syrian conflict.

"Russian planes are sending to Syria both military equipment in accordance with current contracts and humanitarian aid," Lavrov told reporters on Thursday.

Russia's Kommersant daily newspaper said earlier on Thursday that Moscow's advanced BTR-82A armoured personnel carriers were among arms supplied to Damascus.

Moscow has previously insisted in public that its flights to Syria were only for humanitarian purposes.

The Kremlin declined to comment on Thursday on whether Russian troops were fighting in Syria, after sources in Lebanon told the Reuters news agency that Russian forces had begun participating in military operations there.

The threat coming from Islamic State [ISIL] is evident... The only force capable of resisting it is the Syrian armed forces," said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, reiterating Russia's position that its longtime ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, should be part of international efforts to combat ISIL.

Washington has put pressure on Greece and Bulgaria in recent days to deny Russia's requests to use their airspace for its Syria flights.  

During a press conference with the Solavakian prime minister, Ukrainian Prime Minister, Arseny Yatsenyuk, announced the country will close its airspace to Russian planes flying to Syria.

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed his concern over reports of Russian military activities in Syria, warning that it could fan more violence, a state department spokesman said.

Aerial imagery indicated that Russia is focusing on Bassel al-Assad International Airport, south of Latakia on Syria's Mediterranean coast, and on the Russian naval facility in Tartus, the AFP news agency reported.

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO secretary-general, expressed a similar reaction to Kerry, saying the move "will not contribute to solving the conflict".

"I think it is important to now support all efforts to find a political solution to the conflict in Syria. We support very much the efforts by the UN."

One US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the AFP news agency that two tank-landing ships have recently arrived at Tartus and about a dozen Russian armoured personnel carriers are now at the Bassel al-Assad airport, named after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's older brother.

The official said dozens of Russian naval infantry had arrived in Syria, but their role was likely to protect incoming military hardware rather than a boots-on-the-ground deployment.

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Culled from Aljazeera
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