Russia to up naval presence in Syria

Russian official says "vessels will be visiting Syria and other friendly ports more frequently."

state-religion survey 224 (photo credit: )
state-religion survey 224
(photo credit: )
Russia plans to increase its military presence in the Mediterranean by using Syrian ports more frequently, Reuters quoted a Russian diplomat as saying on Wednesday. "Our Navy presence in the Mediterranean will increase," Igor Belyaev, the Russian charge d'affaires, told reporters in Damascus. "Russian vessels will be visiting Syria and other friendly ports more frequently." "The visits are continuing," he added. The comments came despite a recent phone call between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, in which the latter reaffirmed Moscow's commitment to maintain strong ties with Jerusalem amid tensions which surfaced between the two states as a result of the conflict in Georgia. Syrian President Bashar Assad visited Moscow last week, prompting concerns in Jerusalem that Russia might boost arms sales to Damascus. But the acting Russian ambassador to Israel categorically denied such fears. "Why would we do that?" Anatoly Yurkov asked The Jerusalem Post, referring to a query about a Syrian request for Moscow to place the advanced Iskander missile system in its territory. The export model of the Iskander is difficult to shoot down and has a 280-km. range. If stationed in Syria, the missiles could deliver conventional explosives to almost anywhere in Israel. In his comments, Belyaev refused to go into detail about what was discussed and agreed upon during Assad's visit, saying only that "the two leaders gave their directions to advance ties in the economy, trade and energy fields, as well as military cooperation." Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report