Moscow returns fire by accusing US of arming Syria's rebel forces

There are fears for the plight of the people of al-Haffa which has been under siege for eight days

Moscow and Washington were yesterday engaged in a tense war of words over the conflict in Syria, trading barbed accusations over each other's role in arming opposing sides.

In an indication of the breakdown in international diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, hit back at accusations by the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, that his government was "patently" lying about its weapons shipments to Syria and escalating the situation by supplying attack helicopters to the regime.

Speaking during a visit to Tehran, Mr Lavrov claimed that the US was responsible for an increase in bloodshed, accusing Washington of supplying weapons to the Syrian opposition.

Consensus that the situation on the ground constitutes a full-blown civil war is mounting, with the new French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, yesterday joining the UN peacekeeping chief as defining it as such. Syrian state television yesterday said it had "cleansed" the embattled Latakia town of Al Haffa of "terrorist groups", with troops said to be rounding up scores of men and raiding houses.

Analysts and diplomats say that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has become better organised and armed in recent months, as weapons shipments begin to seep in from nations such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The US State Department has stressed that it is not providing any lethal equipment to rebels, but has reportedly been helping to co-ordinate shipments from the Gulf. Russia is the main arms supplier to Bashar al-Assad's regime, but says its contracts are in line with UN regulations.

"We are not violating any international law in performing these contracts," said Mr Lavrov. "That contrasts with what the United States is doing, which is providing arms to the Syrian opposition which are being used against the Syrian government."

There are fears that the polarisation of the international community – as laid bare in Ms Clinton and Mr Lavrov's comments – could escalate the violence further as foreign powers engage in a proxy battle as diplomatic resolutions remain hamstrung.

"There's a set of international actors, Russia, Iran as well as Hezbollah who have been supplying support to the regime from the beginning and now we've now started to see some support being provided to the rebels," said Salman Shaikh, an expert on Syria at the Doha Brookings Centre.

"The Gulf states are not going to hold back and unless something dramatic happens its going to be a long, bloody and very regretful summer."

There has been a "shocking escalation" in unlawful killings, torture, arbitrary dentition and wanton destruction of homes by government forces and militias, Amnesty International says in a new report today based on visits to 23 towns and villages during April and May.

There are fears for the plight of the population of the Sunni town of al-Haffa, where the FSA said they pulled out overnight yesterday to avoid the killing of more civilians. The city had been under siege for eight days and one wounded FSA fighter who had escaped said troops were making mass arrested and looting houses.

"We aren't getting much details of what's been going on because communications have been cut since the army stormed the area," said Rafif Joejati, a spokeswoman for the Local Co-ordination Committees. "But when the regime says they've cleansed the area there are fears that the civilian population will have paid the price."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appeal
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Sport
Ched Evans in action for Sheffield United in 2012
footballRonnie Moore says 'he's served his time and the boy wants to play football'
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick