BEIRUT (AP) — Russia will not stop selling arms to Syria, a top defense official said Thursday, as Moscow stands by its longtime ally despite mounting international condemnation over the Syrian regime's bloody crackdown on a 10-month-old uprising.
Russia's Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said his country is not violating any international obligations by selling weapons to Damascus.
"As of today there are no restrictions on our delivery of weapons," he told journalists in Russia, according to the country's state news agencies. "We must fulfill our obligations and this is what we are doing."
Moscow has been one of Syria's most powerful allies — along with Iran — as Syria tries to crush the revolt against President Bashar Assad. The U.N. estimates that more than 5,400 people have been killed in the government crackdown.
Moscow's stance is motivated in part by its strategic and defense ties, including weapons sales, with Syria. But Russia also rejects what it sees as a a world order dominated by the U.S. Last month, Russia reportedly signed a $550-million deal to sell combat jets to Syria.
U.N. ambassadors this week are trying to overcome Russia's opposition to a draft resolution at the Security Council calling for Assad to surrender power. Moscow says it would veto the draft because it believes it opens the way for eventual international military action.
Wiam Wahhab, a pro-Syrian Lebanese politician, met Tuesday with Assad in Damascus.
"I found him relaxed and sure. He is confident in the Russian position," Wahhab told the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar in an interview published Thursday.
Wahhab said Assad told him he will end the uprising, because "the cost of chaos is much worse than the cost of decisiveness."
As the diplomatic push continues, however, Syrian activists Thursday marked the 30-year anniversary of the Hama massacre. The three-week assault on the rebellious city of Hama leveled entire neighborhoods and killed thousands of people in one of the most notorious massacres in the modern Middle East.
The attack was carried out in 1982 when Assad's father, Hafez, was president — and it has become a rallying cry for some Syrian protesters who want to topple the family dynasty now, once and for all.
On Thursday, many of the city's residents were observing a general strike to mark the anniversary, said Ahmed Jimejmi, a resident. Protests were planned, he said, but security forces flooded the streets in anticipation.
Hundreds of troops and security forces were in the city, including Al-Assi square, and troops set up flying checkpoints, asking for people's IDs.
"There is a checkpoint every 100 meters," he said.
Activists painted two streets in Hama red to symbolize blood, and threw red dye in the waters of Hama's famous and ancient water wheels.
Graffiti on the walls read: "Hafez died, and Hama didn't. Bashar will die, and Hama won't."