Assad says Syria received first S-300 shipment

In interview with Al Manar, Assad says he won't stop Syrian groups attacking Israel in order to liberate the Golan.

Assad in interview with Turkish journalists 370 (photo credit: YouTube Screenshot)
Assad in interview with Turkish journalists 370
(photo credit: YouTube Screenshot)
Syria received the first shipment of long-range S-300 anti-aircraft missiles from Russia, and would receive the rest "soon," Syrian President Bashar Assad told Lebanese network Al Manar, Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar reported.
In an interview set to air on the Hezbollah TV network on Thursday evening, Assad repeated past threats to respond immediately should Israel strike in Syria.
He added that the Syrian government will not stand in the way of any Syrian groups that would attack Israel in order to liberate the Golan Heights.
In the television interview quoted by a Lebanese newspaper, Assad said he planned to go to the "Geneva 2" meeting but was unconvinced of a fruitful outcome.
He underlined the extent of international resources he can call on, despite Western sanctions, by saying Syria had received a first shipment of S-300 missiles from Russia under a deal signed before the conflict and which Israel fears could pose a threat to aviation over its own airspace.
A source close to Russia's defense ministry said, however, that the "hardware itself" had yet to be delivered to Syria, where Moscow has a Mediterranean naval base. But, the source added, "certain parts of the contract may have been fulfilled".
The United States has urged Russia not to supply the system. As with Assad's existing stocks of heavy weaponry, including chemical warheads, neighbouring states are concerned not only that the existing government might use them but that they could fall into the hands of militant groups fighting to remove it.
An Israeli official told Reuters on Thursday that Jerusalem is looking into the reports Syria has received the first shipment of S-300 missiles. "I have no information beyond what has been reported, which we are looking into," he said on condition of anonymity.
Russia has said it would deliver the missile system to the Syrian government over Western objections, saying the move would help stabilize the regional balance.
The United States, France and Israel have all called on Russia to stop the delivery.
“Clearly this move is a threat to us,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said on Tuesday as he stood outside the IDF Home Front Command’s base in Ramle. The defense minister added that if and when the S-300 missiles are delivered, Israel will "know what to do."
Moscow, ally of Assad's government, appeared to grow more defiant after the European Union let its arms embargo on Syria expire earlier this week, opening up the possibility of arming the rebels battling to topple the president.
More than 80,000 people have died in Syria since peaceful protests against four decades of Assad family rule led to a civil war that has pitted the president's forces and his ally, Hezbollah, against Syrian rebels and a flow of Sunni Islamist militants who have come to help them from abroad.
Moscow says the lapsing of the EU embargo complicates US and Russian-led efforts to set up a peace conference between the Syrian government and its opponents, who want an immediate end to four decades of Assad family rule.
The Syrian leader said he planned to go to the "Geneva 2" conference, al-Akhbar reported, though he was unconvinced of a fruitful outcome and said he would continue to fight militants seeking his ouster.
Western experts say the air defense system could significantly boost Syria’s ability to stave off outside intervention in the more than two-year civil war that has killed over 80,000 people.
The S-300s can intercept manned aircraft and guided missiles and their delivery would improve the Assad government’s chance of holding out in Damascus. Western nations say the Russian arms deliveries could increase tension and encourage Assad.
Officials in Israel say the S-300 could reach deep into the Jewish state and threaten flights over its main commercial airport near Tel Aviv.
Al-Akhbar said Assad also stressed ties between his forces and Hezbollah militants now openly fighting on the Syrian side of the Lebanese-Syrian frontier.
"Syria and Hezbollah are part of the same axis," al-Akhbar quoted him as telling al-Manar "The Syrian army is the one fighting and leading the battles against the armed group, and this fight will continue until all those who are called terrorists are eliminated."
The Syrian president also harshly criticized Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who he says are funding opposition forces fighting to topple his regime, and said there are some 100,000 armed Arab and other foreign nationalities in Syria fighting for the rebels.
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On Wednesday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem told Beirut-based news channel Al-Mayadeen that Assad intends to remain president until 2014, after which he will run for a third term if the people want him to, AFP reported.
"Will President Assad run for a third term or won't he, that will depend on conditions in 2014 and the will of the people," Muallem said.
Tovah Lazaroff and Reuters contributed to this report.