Andrew Osborn








UN split as Russia sells warplanes to Syria

The Daily Telegraph, 24th January 2012 08:24

By Richard Spencer and Andrew Osborn in Moscow

SYRIA angrily rejected Arab League calls for President Bashar al–Assad to hand over power yesterday, leaving a split United Nations Security Council the task of finding a solution to the crisis.

The Assad regime showed no sign of compromise despite strongly worded condemnation by the league, which on Sunday accused him of responsibility for the violence sweeping the country.

The Arab League asked the UN to approve its demand that Mr Assad form a unity government with the opposition prior to free elections within six months.

But the UN has been hamstrung by the refusal of Russia, and to a lesser extent China, to condemn Mr Assad unequivocally let alone allow measures to be taken against him. In a further sign of Russia's support, it was said yesterday to be selling 36 Yak–130 light attack aircraft to Damascus.

The first response to the Arab League resolution came from the state news agency, which quoted a government source saying: "Syria rejects the decisions of the Arab League ministerial council and considers them a violation of its national sovereignty."

The resolution split the Syrian opposition, with some suspecting that its "unattainable" demands of the regime were an attempt to hide the weakness of the league's position.

Arab ministers were deeply divided over whether to extend their monitoring mission, which the opposition says is being used as a cover for continued violence against protesters but which is also one of the few practical measures they have so far been able to agree.

"The Syrian people have lost confidence in the Arab League's ability to stop the regime's ongoing bloodshed," said a statement by the local co–ordination committee, an umbrella group of protest organisers.

The Syrian National Council's leader, Burhan Ghalioun, said he welcomed the league's position as confirming that "all Arab countries today consider the tyrannical regime of Bashar al–Assad to be finished".

Moscow has already demonstrated Syria's strategic importance by sending an aircraft carrier into port at Tartous, the Russian navy's only base on the Mediterranean.

The sale at such a sensitive time of the Yak–130s, a trainer aircraft that can also carry a full arsenal of air–to–air and air–to–surface missiles, will irk Washington and its Western allies as they try to force Mr Assad's hand.

Moscow media quoted experts as saying it was a show of support for Mr Assad. "With this contract, Russia is expressing confidence that President Assad will manage to retain control of the situation, because such deals are not signed with a government whose hold on power raises doubts," Igor Korotchenko, head of the Centre of Analysis of the Global Arms trade, told the RIA Novosti news agency.