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Russian destroyer heads for Syria port

(AFP) / 2 April 2012

MOSCOW — A Russian navy destroyer will dock at the Syrian port of Tartus in the coming days after setting out on a planned mission to the region, agencies quoted military officials as saying Monday.

The Smetlivy guided-missile destroyer sailed for the Mediterranean from its Black Sea base of Sevastopol over the weekend and will shortly arrive at the Russian-leased port in Syria, state news agency and other reports said.

The ship will take on new supplies of food and water before conducting planned exercises near Syria’s coast, navy officials said.

“This will be a purely technical port call that is conducted by almost all Russian navy ships conducting exercises in the Mediterranean,” a senior source in the Russian navy told Interfax.

The source said the destroyer’s crew would not be leaving the ship while it was docked.

Tartus is the only base used by Russia in the Mediterranean.

Russia is a close Syria ally that had for the past years shielded President Bashar al-Assad from Western criticism for its bloody political crackdown that the United Nations says has killed more than 9,000 people.

A Russian ship reportedly delivered a supply of arms to Damascus through the same port in January.

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