Report: Russian naval force arrives at Syria port in 'show of solidarity'
Russian visit comes as Arab League scheduled to meet in Cairo to assess the performance of the a widely criticized observer mission; Syria activists say clashes between soldiers, defectors leave 11 dead.
A large Russian naval force arrived at the Syrian port city of Tartus, the French AFP news agency reported on Sunday, in what the regime of President Bashar Assad is calling a show of "friendship."
Last November, a Syrian news agency reported that Russian warships were planned to arrive at Syrian territorial waters, indicating that the move represented a clear message to the West that Moscow would resist any foreign intervention in the country's civil unrest.
Citing the official Syrian news agency SANA on Sunday, AFP reported that a large Russian naval flotilla, led by an aircraft carrier, is making a six-day port call to Tartus. SANA also quoted a Russian naval officer as saying that the a visit was "aimed at bringing the two countries closer together and strengthening their ties of friendship."
"The commanders of the Russian naval vessels docked in Tartus took turns to express their solidarity with the Syrian people," SANA added.
The Russian visit came as the Arab League ruled out considering a withdrawal of its widely criticized peace observers from Syria, ahead of a meeting in Cairo to assess the performance of the mission.
Led by Qatar, an Arab League committee on Sunday was to review a report about the mission, which was dispatched two weeks ago to Syria to verify the Damascus government's compliance with a plan to end a violent crackdown on dissent.
According to leaked excerpts, the report cites continued violence by the Syrian government on pro-democracy protesters, Doha-based broadcaster Al Jazeera reported.
The report mentions that Syrian authorities hold detainees in unknown places, Al Jazeera said.
The Arab League's assistant chief, Adnan Eissa, said Saturday it was unlikely for the meeting to discuss the possibility of recalling the observers any time soon.
"No Arab country has talked about the necessity of withdrawing the observers," he told reporters in Cairo.
He said that the Arab countries were favoring more support for the observers and better equipping them to do their job.
The observer mission reached 163 members on Saturday, after 10 more colleagues from Jordan arrived, according to Eissa.
Meanwhile, Syrian activists say 11 soldiers and several civilians have died in clashes and attacks.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighting between government troops and military defectors in the town of Basr al-Harir in southern Daraa province Sunday killed 11 soldiers and wounded more than 20.
The Observatory and other activist networks reported several civilians killed in government raids in the central Homs region and eastern Deir el-Zour province. The number of civilians killed was not immediately clear and the reports could not be independently confirmed as Syria has barred most foreign journalists from the country.