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Saudi Arabia accuses Putin of hypocrisy over letter urging peace when Russia 'part of problem'

'He speaks about the problems in the Middle East as though Russia is not influencing these problems,' the Saudi Foreign Minister said

Lizzie Dearden
Monday 30 March 2015 11:11 BST
Vladimir Putin has defended arming Bashar al-Assad
Vladimir Putin has defended arming Bashar al-Assad (AFP/Getty Images)

Saudi Arabia has accused Vladimir Putin of hypocrisy after he sent a letter to the Arab League supporting the peaceful “resolution of all problems” it claims Russia is fuelling in the Middle East.

In a letter read out to delegates at the summit in Egypt on Sunday, the Russian President condemned extremist groups including Isis for undermining regional security, attacking civilians and destroying cultural heritage.

“We support the Arabs' aspirations for a prosperous future and for the resolution of all the problems the Arab world faces through peaceful means, without any external interference,” he wrote.

Putin told the Arab League that international military intervention was not the way to solve the world's conflicts (EPA)

His comments came after Saudi-led air strikes pounded rebels in Yemen, reportedly destroying every one of their fighter jets in the country in bombing that killed dozens of people.

The Saudi Foreign Minister Prince, Saud al-Faisal, reprimanded Mr Putin for Russia’s continuing shipments of arms to the Syrian government.

It has supported President Bashar al-Assad’s forces with weapons including armoured vehicles, drones and guided bombs, throughout the country’s four-year civil war.

Mr Putin defended the flow of arms, which started long before Isis emerged as a separate group, in the wake of numerous allegations of war crimes by al-Assad’s forces.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal reprimanded Vladimir Putin (AP)

“He speaks about the problems in the Middle East as though Russia is not influencing these problems,” Mr al-Faisal told the Arab League after the letter was read out.

“They speak about tragedies in Syria while they are an essential part of the tragedies befalling the Syrian people, by arming the Syrian regime above and beyond what it needs to fight its own people.

“I hope that the Russian president corrects this so that the Arab world's relations with Russia can be at their best level.”

Relations between Saudi Arabia and Russia have faltered over Moscow's support for al-Assad, who Riyadh opposes.

But other members of the Arab League are more cordial, including Egypt which has improved ties with Moscow and gave Mr Putin a warm welcome during a state visit in February.

The two-day Arab League summit ended with a vow to defeat Iranian-backed Shia rebels in Yemen and form a joint Arab military intervention force as multiple conflicts continue.

Yemeni rebels the Houthis swept down from their northern strongholds last year and captured the capital, Sanaa, in September, forcing President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to flee.

A Saudi-led coalition began bombing Yemen on Thursday, saying it was targeting the Houthis and their allies, which include forces loyal to Yemen's former leader, Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby said the campaign code-named Operation Decisive Storm would continue until all Houthi militias “withdraw and surrender their weapons”.

The the Saudi-led air campaign has pushed Houthi rebels out of contested air bases, Saudi Brigadier General Ahmed bin Hasan Asiri told reporters.

Air strikes hit Houthi targets throughout Sunday, including air defences, ammunition depots, missile launch pads, heavy weapons and vehicles the rebels had seized from government forces.

The Yemeni health ministry, controlled by the Houthi movement, said on Sunday that the air strikes had killed 35 people and wounded 88 during the night before. The figures could not be independently confirmed.

Additional reporting by agencies

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