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Russia does not defend Syria, says Putin


Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday his country was not a defender of the Syrian government, as Syria’s foreign ministry spokesperson became the latest official to defect.

"We are not inveterate defenders of the current regime in Syria," Putin was quoted as saying by Russia state television.

"I've already said it many times. We are not advocates of the incumbent Syrian leadership. Other things worry us, like what will happen in the future?"

Putin also said the deployment of US-made Patriot missiles near Turkey's volatile border with war-ravaged Syria would worsen tensions.

"Creating additional capabilities on the border does not defuse the situation but on the contrary exacerbates it," Putin said during a joint press conference with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul, referring to Ankara's request from NATO to deploy missiles near its border with Syria against a spillover of Syria's civil war.

Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi has defected from President Bashar al-Assad's government and has left the country, a regional diplomatic source said on Monday.

But Lebanon's Hezbollah-affiliated al-Manar Television said earlier that Makdissi had been sacked for making statements which did not reflect official positions.

"He defected. All I can say is that he is out of Syria," the source, who did not want to be named, told Reuters.

The United Nations meanwhile announced on Monday it was withdrawing "all non-essential international staff" from Syria due to the worsening security situation, and was restricting remaining staff to the capital.

Up to 25 of about 100 international staff could leave this week, it said, adding that more armored vehicles were needed following attacks on humanitarian aid convoys sometimes caught in crossfire between Syrian government and rebel forces.

"The UN has decided to send all non-essential international staff out of Syria and to halt all field trips outside of the capital for now," the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a statement.

Putin arrived in Istanbul earlier Monday for talks with Turkey’s leader over their differences on the Syrian conflict.

Turkish tensions with Russia came to a head in October when Turkey intercepted a Syrian plane en route from Moscow to Damascus on suspicion it had military cargo, drawing an angry response from Russia.

Ankara said the cargo contained military equipment destined for the Syrian defense ministry. Moscow insisted it was dual-purpose radar equipment which was not banned by international conventions.

Putin after the meeting said Russia and Turkey cannot agree on how to respond to the nearly 21-month conflict raging in Syria.

(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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