Assad Dodges Questions About Delivery of Russian-made S-300 Missiles to Syria

In interview with Hezbollah-affiliated television station, embattled president appeared to contradict previous claim that Damascus had taken delivery of air defense systems.

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Syrian President Bashar Assad said in a television interview broadcast Thursday that Russia has fulfilled some of its weapons contracts recently, but was vague on whether this included advanced S-300 air defense systems.

Assad's actual comments differed from excerpts the TV station conducting the interview had sent to reporters in a text message on Thursday morning.

In that message, the Al-Manar station owned by the Lebanese militia Hezbollah quoted Assad as saying Syria had already received a first shipment of such missiles. The Associated Press called Al-Manar after receiving the text message, and an official at the station said the message had been sent based on Assad's comments.

In the interview, Assad was asked about the S-300s, but his answer was general.

He said that Russia's weapons shipments are not linked to the Syria conflict. "We have been negotiating with them about different types of weapons for years and Russia is committed to Syria to implement these contracts," he said.

"All we have agreed on with Russia will be implemented and some of it has been implemented recently, and we and the Russians continue to implement these contracts," he said.

Assad also said that his forces will respond to any future Israeli strike on his country.

Israel reportedly struck near the Syrian capital of Damascus earlier this month. Israeli officials said at the time they were targeting suspected shipments of advanced missiles purportedly intended for Hezbollah, a Syria ally.

Asked whether Syria would respond to such strikes, Assad said: "We have told countries that we will respond to any strike with a similar strike." He says that the manner of the response "depends on the circumstance and timing" of the attack.

President Bashar Assad speaking during an interview on Syrian state television in May. Credit: AP

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