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Syria's Tartus port will receive three military ships from Russia, sources say, even as officials deny the shipments.
Syria's Tartus port is expecting the delivery of three Russian warships carrying 360 marines, anonymous Russian defense officials told reporters Friday.
The military vessels are reportedly headed to Syria to renew water and food supplies at Russia's naval facility at the port, and are expected to dock in Tartus by the end of this week, the New York Times reported.
Tartus is Russia's sole permanent warm water port outside the former Soviet Union, the Daily Star reported. It is used for ship maintenance and refueling, and is staffed by less than 100 Russian marines, according to the Star.
The Russian sources, who refused to be named, did not detail the military equipment onboard the ships, nor did they confirm if any of the marines would be disembarking in Syria, BBC News reported.
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Russia supports Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, and has been vetoing the UN Security Council's efforts to enact a peaceful resolution to the country's conflict.
However, Russia's Defense Agency officials have denied that they are sending warships to Syria, the state-owned RIA news agency reported Friday.
Vice Admiral Viktor Chirkov said last Saturday that servicemen may be evacuated from Tartus if the port comes under attack, CBS News reported, but stressed that the Russian navy needs the base "to provide maintenance and technical support to Russian warships in the Mediterranean, as well as those on an anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean," according to CBS News.
The New York Times noted that there have been several reports of Russian ships being sent to Syria as tensions in the country have escalated over the summer, and that each rumor has been denied by defense officials.
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The news of the shipments comes amidst Kofi Annan's resignation as the UN's special envoy to the war-torn nation, which will become effective August 31.
Foreign Secretary William Hague of Britain called Annan’s decision “a bleak moment” for the international effort to stop the violence in Syria, according to the Times.