The Syrian army has moved new surface-to-air missile batteries to the Lebanese border, Arab media reported Friday. The report comes after Israel had warned it will strike Syria's chemical facilities if President Bashar Assad transfers his chemical stockpile to Hezbollah.
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On Thursday, a Lebanese defense official told the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Akhbar newspaper that the Syrians have shared some of the details of their deployment with the Lebanese. According to the source, the Syrians have devised a comprehensive military plan along the Lebanese border.
The London-based al-Sharq al-Awsat also addressed the deployment. A Lebanese military source told the paper there is no concrete information on the deployment of surface-to-air batteries on the border. He explained that the reinforcements were routine steps taken by the Syrian army in order to prevent the infiltration of gunmen from Lebanon into Syria.
Syrian army test-fires missiles (Photo: EPA)
He stressed there was no hostility between the two nations that would warrant the mobilization of anti-aircraft missiles. Asked whether the Syrian army is taking precautions for fear of a strike, he said that the deployment is done "according to a coordinated air defense plan. Assuming that the Syrians fear a NATO strike against them, Lebanon would not allow such a strike against Syria from its territory or airspace."
Lebanese military expert Nizar Abdul Kader said, "The Syrian military reinforcements were meant to warn outside elements of mounting military intervention against the regime. The deployment of anti-aircraft missiles is a precaution against airstrikes that can harm the Syrian regime."
Meanwhile, Syrian opposition members reported that two senior army officials have defected. One is Ahmed Tlas, head of military procurement at the interior ministry and the second is Mohammad al-Haj Ali, a military academy senior official.
Anti-Assad protest in Lebanon (Photo: AP)
Also Friday, Mortars rained down on a crowded marketplace in a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus, killing 21 people as regime forces and rebels clashed on the southern outskirts of Damascus, activists said.
The Britain-based Syria Observatory for Human Rights, which reported the deaths, said the shells hit Yarmouk camp Thursday as shoppers were buying food for the evening meal. The activists with the group would not speculate on who was firing.
Russia sends ships to Tartus
It was also reported that Moscow is sending three large landing ships with marines aboard to a Russian naval facility in the Syrian port of Tartus.
Russian news agencies quoted a source in the general staff as saying each ship would have up to 120 marines on board and that the vessels, already in the Mediterranean, would arrive in Tartus by the end of this week.
The source did not specify the goal of the mission, but Russia had earlier said it was preparing to send marines to Syria in case it needed to protect personnel and remove equipment from the naval maintenance facility.
The Russian Defense Ministry declined comment. The source said the ships would head back to the Russian port of Novorossiysk after spending several days in Tartus.
AP contributed to this report
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