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Russia sends troops to Syria as peace hopes fade


Russia is sending armed troops to Syria amid escalating violence there, United States military officials told NBC News Friday, in a move certain to frustrate Western efforts to put pressure on the regime of President Bashir Assad.

Moscow has sent a ship carrying a small contingent of combat forces to guard Russia’s deep-water port and military base at the Syrian city of Tartus, the US officials said.

The U.S. officials also said Russia has not sent additional attack helicopters to the Syrian government, but replacement parts for the Russian helicopters the Syrians are already flying.

It comes after the conflict was declared by France on Wednesday to be a full-blown civil war.

Tartus is one of Russia’s most strategically-important assets, giving it military access to the Mediterranean Sea.

Russia and China, both permanent members of the U.N. Security Council with veto power, frustrated attempts by key Western figures, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to enforce a United Nations peace plan brokered by special envoy Kofi Annan.

Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday repeated Moscow’s strong opposition to external interference in Syria, said it was not discussing plans for a Syrian political transformation following the exit of Assad.

[] A former Syrian Ministry of Defense employee says that the Assad regime is committing genocide.

* Syrian pilot defects to Jordan with plane

* Clinton says Russia is sending gunships to Syria, could escalate conflict ‘quite dramatically’



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