U.S. Warns Russian Missiles May Embolden Syria's Assad, Prolong Conflict

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey calls shipment of anti-ship missiles 'ill-timed and very unfortunate.' Rights group says obtained evidence of arbitrary detention and torture by Assad's forces.

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A Russian shipment of anti-ship missiles to Syria could embolden President Bashar Assad's forces and prolong the conflict, the top U.S. military officer said on Friday.

"It's at the very least an unfortunate decision that will embolden the regime and prolong the suffering, so it's ill-timed and very unfortunate," General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the Pentagon.

Dempsey said he was referring specifically to the anti-ship missiles sent by Russia. The missiles, called Yakhonts, are equipped with an advanced radar that renders them more effective, according to officials who spoke to The New York Times on condition of anonymity because they were discussing classified intelligence information.

Also on Friday, United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon voiced disappointment over Syria's refusal to let UN inspectors enter the country to check reports about the use of chemical weapons.

"It is deplorable that the team could not visit Syria to do an investigation on the ground," Ban said after talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Russia supports the UN investigation, said Lavrov, expressing hope that an agreement between Damascus and the UN would be found, the Interfax news agency reported.

The United States, Britain and Israel have said there is evidence that sarin gas has been used in Syria.

Russia, a key Syria ally, and the United States last week agreed to call for a peace conference to discuss an end to the 26-month conflict, which the UN refugee agency said Friday has sent at least 1.5 million Syrians fleeing the country.

Syria's civil war will also be the focus of talks between Israeli officials and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle who arrived in Tel Aviv Friday.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Watch accused the Syrian government of arbitrarily detaining and torturing opponents in security buildings.

The New York-based group's researchers found documents and evidence of the abuse when they visited the state security and military intelligence facilities in al-Raqqa in northern Syria late April after local armed opposition groups took control of the city.

"The documents, prison cells, interrogation rooms and torture devices we saw in the government's security facilities are consistent with the torture former detainees have described to us since the beginning of the uprising in Syria," the group's deputy Middle East director, Nadim Houry, said.

In addition, The Wall Street Journal reported that Russia has dispatched a dozen or more warships to patrol waters near its naval base in Syria, as part of the European country's newly aggressive stance that evidently seeks to deter the West and Israel from getting involved the crisis in Syria.

These reports come just days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and asked him not to sell Syria anti-aircraft missiles.

Mobile missile launchers drive down Tverskaya Street during rehearsals for the Victory Day military parade in central Moscow April 25, 2013. Credit: Reuters

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