Hague: Russian ship not headed to Syria

June 19, 2012 at 1:27 PM
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LONDON, June 19 (UPI) -- A ship reportedly carrying refurbished Russian attack helicopters to Syria has turned back to Russia, Britain's foreign secretary said Tuesday.

"I am pleased that the ship that was reported to be carrying arms to Syria has turned back apparently towards Russia," British Foreign Secretary William Hague told the House of Commons, CNN reported.

"We discourage anyone else from supplying arms to Syria. We have had discussions with Russia about that specifically," Hague added.

The Standard Club in London earlier reportedly withdrew its insurance covering the Russian ship MV Alaed. The cargo ship is believed to be carrying Mi25 helicopters and munitions, Britain's The Guardian newspaper said.

Russia's Defense Ministry Tuesday denied reports it was sending its Kaliningrad warship to Syria.

"The only right thing about these reports is that the Kaliningrad is indeed part of the Baltic Sea Fleet," a Defense Ministry spokesman was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti.

"The Kaliningrad is currently taking part in the Celtic Week [festival] and will soon return to its home port," he said.

Meanwhile, Syrian officials said they're prepared to act on a U.N. appeal to evacuate civilians from Homs, which has been under attack by government forces.

The Foreign Ministry said Tuesday it contacted U.N. observers in Syria and local authorities to try to set up an evacuation operation from Homs, where activists say about 1,000 families have been trapped, Voice of America reported.

The activist group, Local Coordination Committees in Syria, reported at least 18 people died in Syria in fighting Tuesday. Syrian rights activists said at least 79 people died Monday across the country in the more-than-yearlong uprising against President Bashar Assad.

However, the government said in a statement efforts to set up an evacuation operation failed because of terrorist groups, which Syrian leaders have consistently blamed for the violence.

The Syrian statement also accused rebels of using Homs civilians as "human shields."

Norwegian Gen. Robert Mood, who heads the U.N. observer mission, appealed to the Syrian government and rebel forces to allow women, children and the wounded to leave Homs and other combat zones. The 300-member observation team has suspended its work because of escalating violence since a cease-fire was implemented in April.

The U.N. Security Council will consider its next steps when Mood addresses the panel Tuesday, British newspaper The Guardian reported.

Mark Lyall Grant, Britain's ambassador to the United Nations, said he thinks many representatives "will be questioning now what the future is for the mission" and the peace plan brokered by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan based on "these recent developments on the ground."

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, attending the Group of 20 Summit in Mexico, issued a joint statement Monday that called for an "immediate cessation of all violence" in Syria. The statement also said the two countries were "united" in the belief that Syrians should have the chance to "democratically choose their own future."

Russia, along with China, is a major trade partner of Syria and has helped block U.N. Security Council efforts to impose sanctions.

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