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June 13, 2012 – 9:07 am | Views: 941

The US campaign group, Human Rights First, has urged the US state department to obtain more details about recent Russian shipments of attack helicopters. It issued this statement:

Russian Mi-24 helicopter gunships

Russian made attack helicopters such as Mil Mi 24 (Mi 25) have been identified by citizens and reporters as a new tactic used in recent months in attacks by the Syrian regime on civilians in areas of Idlib, Rastan and Latakia. While many of the attack helicopter models currently used by the Syrian regime may have been imported a long time ago, any new shipments of such equipment to Syria is very worrying given their possible use against civilians. For this reason, Human Rights First has called on Secretary Clinton to obtain the disclosure of cargo manifests for Russian arms shipments to Syria over the past 16 months, to verify that Russia is in fact not providing the Syrian regime with weapons that are being or can be used to target civilians, as they have recently claimed.

8.36am: (all times BST) Welcome to Middle East Live. Hillary Clinton has accused Russia of escalating a conflict that the UN peacekeeping chief says has descended into civil war. And there are fresh claims that Saudi Arabia and Qatar are supplying weapons to the rebels.

Here’s roundup in more detail:

Syria

• Clinton said Russia was shipping attack helicopters to the Assad regime and lying about weapons deliveries. She said:

We have confronted the Russians about stopping their continued arms shipments to Syria. They have, from time to time, said that we shouldn’t worry, [that] everything they’re shipping is unrelated to [Syria’s] actions internally. That’s patently untrue, and 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.

UN officials say that helicopter gunships are already being used as activists circulated footage of spent Russian-made helicopter missiles.

• Clinton’s remarks directly contradict Russian President Vladmir Putin who claimed earlier this month that Moscow was not supplying arms to Syria which could be used against protesters.“As for arms supplies, Russia is not supplying arms that could be used in civil conflicts,” he said.

• Herve Ladsous, head of the UN’s department of peacekeeping operations, said that Syria was in a state of civil war. “Clearly what is happening is the government of Syria lost some large chunks of territory, several cities to the opposition, and wants to retake control,” he told Reuters. Asked if the crisis can now be characterised as a civil war he said: “Yes, I think we can say that.”

• UN observers were prevented from reaching the besieged north-western town of al-Haffa by angry crowds, and were shot at as they left. Sausan Ghosheh, spokeswoman for the UN supervision mission in Syria, said: “The crowd, who appeared to be residents of the area, hurled stones and metal rods at the UN vehicles. The UN observers turned back. “As they were leaving the area, three vehicles heading towards Idlib were fired upon – the source of fire is still unclear.”

• Syrian rebels are being armed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with the implicit support of Turkey’s intelligence agency, a unnamed diplomat told the Independent.

An Ankara-based Western diplomat, who spoke on a condition of anonymity, confirmed that the delivery of “light weapons” to the rebels was a “recent development”, one that involved unmarked trucks transporting the weapons to the border for rebel groups. “There are arms coming in with the knowledge of the Turks,” he said. The Syrian National Council (SNC), the main umbrella organisation of groups opposed to the regime, vetted the consignment.

• Britain is poised to ban the head of Syria’s national Olympic committee from attending the London games next month but allow a young showjumper with close family ties to the regime of Bashar al-Assad to compete as planned. Whitehall sources have indicated that General Mowaffak Joumaa will be refused entry to the UK on the grounds of his links to President Assad and the Syrian military. But Ahmed Hamsho, 18, is the first ever Syrian equestrian to qualify for the Olympics, is expected to compete despite the fact that his father is a close associate of Maher al-Assad, the president’s brother and architect of the brutal suppression of the uprising.

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Syria crisis: US accuses Russia of sending attack helicopters – live updates

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