Bashar al-Assad: Syria has received S-300 air defence missiles from Russia

InternationalSyrian forces loyal to President Assad at Dabaa military air base in Homs province Thursday. AP

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria said in a television interview to be broadcast on Thursday that Russia has delivered S-300 air defence missiles to his country, weapons that Israel has said present a threat to its security and against which it is willing to use force.

"Syria has received the first shipment of Russian anti-aircraft S-300 rockets," Assad said in the interview, to be aired on Al Manar, the television channel of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which in recent weeks has dramatically increased its military intervention in Syria on the side of Assad's government. "The rest of the shipment will arrive later today."

Russian officials had said earlier this week that the country would deliver the weapons to Syria, a move that Assad's opponents said was a sign that neither Russia nor the Syrian government was serious about proposed negotiations to end the Syrian civil war that Russia and the United States are trying to organize for as early as next month.

The interview with Assad was taped on Tuesday, according to Beirut news director of Iran's English-language Press TV. That same day, Israel's defence minister declared categorically that the missile systems had not yet been delivered.

A senior Israeli official on Thursday said the S-300 missile systems "do not just come in a box" and that different elements would probably be delivered in stages. It was possible, he said, because of diplomatic constraints, that some parts had arrived in Syria but he added that there was no indication at this stage that the systems were anywhere near operational.

Both the Syrian government and the opposition have hardened their positions in recent days, casting doubt on the future of the proposed talks as each side declared a starting point that is thoroughly unacceptable to the other.

On Wednesday, the Syrian opposition said Assad's departure is a prerequisite to talks a condition his government and Russia reject while foreign minister said Assad would stay on at least until 2014 and might seek re-election and that any peace agreement would have to be approved by a referendum.

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