Russia Condemns US Move To Arm Syria Rebels

Sky News US Team
Russia Condemns US Move To Arm Syria Rebels

Russia has said a US decision to arm rebels opposed to Syrian President Bashar al Assad might stoke violence in the Middle East.

President Barack Obama has authorised lethal aid to Syrian rebels after the US announced it had conclusive evidence that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons.

Prime Minister David Cameron has backed the US assessment, while Syria dismissed the allegations that it had used chemical weapons as "full of lies" and Russia said they were "not backed up".

A statement by the Syrian Foreign Ministry in Damascus said the US is resorting to "cheap tactics" to justify the decision to arm fthe rebels.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke on the phone with his American counterpart, John Kerry.

Mr Lavrov told the secretary of state that military support "risks escalating (violence) in the region, while accusations against Damascus of the use of chemical weapons by the United States are not backed up by verified facts", according to a Foreign Ministry statement released in Moscow.

Meanwhile, Lebanon's Hezbollah militant group vowed to keep fighting in Syria "wherever needed".

Hezbollah's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, said his group has made a "calculated" decision to defend the Syrian regime no matter what the consequences.

The group sent gunmen to Qusair, helping the Assad regime recapture the strategic town from rebels.

Earlier in the day, Mr Cameron said the UK shares the US judgement on the alleged use of chemical weapons.

In an interview for the Guardian, Mr Cameron said: "I discussed this with President Obama on my recent visit. Our intelligence agencies have been sharing information.

"We share their view that, as we put it, growing levels of information about chemical weapons used by the regime and no firm evidence that chemical weapons have been used by the opposition.

"I welcome this candid assessment by the Americans.

"I think it, rightly, puts back centre-stage the question, the very difficult question to answer but nonetheless one we have got to address: what are we going to do about the fact that in our world today there is a dictatorial and brutal leader who is using chemical weapons under our noses against his own people?"

He said no decision had yet been taken to arm the rebels.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said the crisis in Syria demands a "strong, determined and co-ordinated response from the international community".

The White House disclosed that the Assad regime had crossed "clear red lines" by deploying chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin.

In an interview with Sky News, Republican Senator John McCain said: "The battlefield situation now heavily favours Bashar Assad thanks to Russian missiles, airplanes, arms flowing in, thousands of Hezbollah in Syria, other jihadists from all over the region, and of course the Iranian revolutionary guard.

"It's a shameful chapter in American history - our refusal to help them - and if we only give them arms that will not change the battlefield situation.

"We have to have a no-fly zone, we have to give them the arms that they need which is anti-tank and anti-air, and we have to neutralise Bashar Assad’s air superiority."

The UK led calls for the European Union to lift its arms embargo on Syria.