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US Denies Supplying Stinger Missiles To Syria Rebels, Challenges Russia To Prove

The United States has refuted Russian allegation that Washington provided Syrian rebels with Stinger missiles, and retorted by saying that "the equipment seen in Syria has been exclusively of a Soviet Warsaw Pact vintage."

Responding to a question at a routine press briefing in Washington on Wednesday, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland insisted that "we are providing no lethal assistance to the Syrians. We have provided no Stingers of any kind to Syria, nor will we. And if there is evidence of that, we'd like to see it."

Nuland added that "all of the images that we've seen of MANPADS and MANPAD-like equipment in Syria has been exclusively of a Soviet Warsaw Pact vintage - the SA-7 type vintage. We have not seen evidence of Stingers."

Asked whether she was sure about that there were no Stingers in Syrian territory, Nuland replied: "I obviously can't prove a negative. My point is we haven't seen it, and if somebody else has seen it, we'd like to see the evidence."

Russian Chief of Staff Gen. Nikolai Makarov said on Wednesday that he had "reliable" information that anti-government forces in Syria were in possession of portable surface-to-air missiles, including U.S.-made Stingers.

She challenged the Russian top military commander to provide Washington with specific evidence of the Syrian Opposition having U.S.-made Stinger missiles. "If the Russian Federation has evidence of Stingers in the hands of the Opposition, we'd like to see it."

Reuters news agency, quoting a U.S. government source, reported that President Barack Obama earlier this year had signed a secret order authorizing CIA and other U.S. agencies to provide support for rebels seeking to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Nuland said the United States had been trying to collect MANPADs all over the world, including in Libya, but insisted that "without our own boots and eyes on the ground in Syria, we're not in a position to evaluate what the chain of custody might have been."

She called attention to the latest in a series of "the ongoing barbarity that the Assad regime is raining down on its people, the extreme violence that we're seeing in the suburbs of Damascus today, particularly in East Ghota, in Harasta, in Arbeen. They've seen some of the worst violence in those areas since the start of this revolution - aerial bombing from planes, helicopters, as well as shelling," she said.

Nuland is uncertain about the possibility of the Assad regime stopping the "barbarity" on Friday morning, saying that "it is very clear that they are taking the time between now and Friday to be as vicious as possible."

U.N.-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said on Wednesday that the Syrian government as well as most rebel groups had agreed to observe a ceasefire during the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha which begins on Friday. the Syrian Foreign Ministry said the government would announce its "final position" on the ceasefire on Thursday.

The Syrian regime has been using heavy weaponry as well as helicopter-gunships and fighter jets in the conflict, particularly in Damascus and the country's second largest city of Aleppo. Besides, Opposition groups also seem to have procured advanced weapons, which are being currently used against Syrian security forces.

The 20-month-old conflict is now viewed as a civil war by most of the international community. Unabated violence has forced hundreds of thousands of Syrians to seek refuge in neighboring Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan. It is now threatening to spill over to neighboring nations and is increasingly becoming sectarian in nature.

Continued efforts by the international community to find a solution to the crisis have been hampered by a deep divide in the U.N. Security Council, with Russia and China backing the Assad regime and the West opposing it.

by RTT Staff Writer

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