Russia is only repairing helicopters sold to Syria by the Soviet Union, two people familiar with the matter said, after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said shipments of Russian attack choppers were escalating 15 months of violence.
Russia has been fixing about 20 Mi-24 choppers that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad's father Hafez acquired, under a contract signed four years ago, said one of the people, who works in Russia's defense industry and declined to be identified because the matter is confidential. Clinton said yesterday that the U.S. is ``concerned by the latest information we have that there are attack helicopters on the way from Russia to Syria, which will escalate the conflict quite dramatically.''
More than 10,000 people have died in Syria since an uprising against Assad’s government started last March. The level of violence has increased, including massacres of Sunni civilians blamed on state-backed shabiha militiamen. They belong to Assad’s Alawite sect, which is associated with Shiite Islam. The government is also using attack helicopters against the opposition, the UN and U.S. have said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov today accused the U.S. of arming Syrian rebels and reiterated Russia’s position that all weapons deliveries to Assad’s government are lawful, in comments translated into Farsi from Russian at a press conference in Tehran.