Russia says 15,000 foreign "terrorists" in Syria

GENEVA Thu Mar 8, 2012 1:52pm EST

GENEVA (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is battling al Qaeda-backed "terrorists" including at least 15,000 foreign fighters who will seize towns across Syria if government troops withdraw, a Russian diplomat said on Thursday.

Russia is a staunch defender of Syria despite international condemnation of the crackdown by Assad's forces and evidence of human rights abuses against unarmed civilians.

Addressing a one-day humanitarian forum on Syria at the United Nations in Geneva, Russia's deputy ambassador Mikhail Lebedev said rebels had recently committed large-scale attacks against Syrian infrastructure, including schools and hospitals.

"Rebel groups attack, kill, torture and intimidate the civilian population. The flow of all kind of terrorists from some neighboring countries is always increasing," Lebedev told the forum.

Asked by Reuters how many foreign fighters were believed to be in Syria, he said: "How many got in through illegal routes? The border there is not demarcated, not delimited, so nobody knows. But at least 15,000."

On Thursday, Kofi Annan, the U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, said he would urge Assad and his foes to stop fighting and seek a political solution, drawing angry rebukes from dissidents.

Russia wants a ceasefire by all parties and an inclusive political dialogue. Lebedev told the U.N. meeting criticism of Assad was overdone.

"We urge our partners not to yield to temptation to exaggerate things but to expedite a balanced and professional approach to delivering help to all segments of the Syrian population with no exception," he said.

"Most of the militants are indeed directly or closely affiliated with al Qaeda."

COUNTERPRODUCTIVE

Lebedev told Reuters the information about al Qaeda links in Syria was an "unambiguous fact" but declined to say if Russia would provide the U.N. with evidence to back its allegation Syrian rebels were committing torture.

"All I know is that all the way through (the wars in the Russian region of) Chechnya nobody believed us when we said the Islamic underground, including terrorist organizations, was developing its operations on our soil," he said.

"It's just that five years later there's a recognition that we did everything right."

Lebedev said attempts to force Assad to rein in his troops unilaterally would be counterproductive.

"If we demand that the Syrian government withdraw its forces from the cities without addressing the same call to the opposition we should be ready (to see) that the relevant towns will immediately be occupied by the violent armed groups," he said.

(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Sophie Hares)

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Comments (15)
TeaBagYou wrote:
And how did 15k foreign troops just materialize in Syria? Pretty sure someone would have seen that crossing a border. You couldn’t even pass 15k troops across the Canadian border without someone taking notice.

Russia, your propaganda used to be better than this. Why even bother to say anything?

If Russians are that gullible it’s no wonder their country is a corrupt $hithole.

Mar 08, 2012 4:24pm EST  --  Report as abuse
DeanMJackson wrote:
Why does the Russian aircraft carrier that visited Syria in January have the Communist Red Star on each side of its bow, as do all new and old Russian Naval vessels? Why does the aircraft carrier’s aircraft also have the Communist Red Star on their wings, as do all Russian military aircraft? Why is Russia the only ‘democracy’ to inexplicably have a foreign policy that coincides with Communist China and not the West? Hmm…now you know why the Russian electorate (who are 87% non-Communist) are inexplicably electing Soviet-era Communists for president/prime minister, including ‘ex’ KGB officer Vladimir Putin.

Mar 08, 2012 4:34pm EST  --  Report as abuse
stonehillady wrote:
15,000 is a lot of thugs & are probably being supported by Afghan Drug Money that a certain Government has been facilitating. Blackrock is also not in this report, didn’t take note of them inside Syria as well as reported by “RT”…This is so ruthless & covert it ashames me that a once great nation has stumped to the level of Maggots & Snakes all for connecting the whole world back to a collective Feudalist Society run by a Corporate Fascist Order…

Mar 08, 2012 5:22pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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