In an interview by Al-Manar TV station, owned by the Shia Hezbollah group in neighbouring Lebanon, Bashar al-Assad said he had already received the first shipment of an advanced Russian air defence system and would soon get the rest of the S-300 missile system, Al Jazeera reported Thursday. The comments were first published by the Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar which got excerpts of the interview. “Syria has received the first shipment of Russian anti-aircraft S-300 rockets,” al-Akhbar quoted Assad as saying. “The rest of the shipment will arrive soon.”
Israel has suggested its military might strike the Russian S-300 missiles. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem made similar comments on Wednesday, telling Lebanese media: “Our armed forces have regained the momentum’’, according to the BBC. Meanwhile, Syrian opposition members meeting in the Turkish city of Istanbul have set preconditions on entering international peace talks scheduled for next month in Geneva. The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) was expected to meet for a final day last night to see how they can take part in peace talks being brokered by Russia – a key Syria ally – and the United States to end the ongoing conflict.
The SNC laid out preconditions on Wednesday for the conference, which hopes to bring the Syrian government and opposition together for the first time. They want, among other requirements, a political process that will end the rule of Assad. “The participation of the Syrians in any conference is tied to the presentation of a deadline for a solution and giving the necessary binding international guarantees,” said a statement released by the coalition.
Major powers also remain divided on who will take part in the talks or when they will be held, Ban Ki-moon, the UN chief, said on Wednesday. Ban told reporters “active consultations” were still being held, while Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, said the US government’s “entire foreign policy apparatus” was working to hold the meeting.
The US has also called on Lebanon’s Hezbollah to withdraw its fighters from Syria immediately. France says about 3,000 to 4,000 Hezbollah fighters are currently battling alongside regime troops in Syria. Meanwhile, Syria’s foreign minister Walid al-Muallem told the Beirut-based news channel Mayadeen that the Syrian government would allow its people to vote on agreements made at the so-called Geneva 2 meeting. Also on Wednesday, the US, Turkey and Qatar pushed through a UN resolution demanding a probe into the fighting around the Syrian town of Qusayr, near Lebanon.