Syrian arms imports surge courtesy Russia; Tawakul Karman tells Assad ‘time is up’

Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakul Karman, wearing a Syrian independence flag, addresses Syrian refugees at Boynuyogun refugee camp in Hatay province on the Turkish-Syrian border. (Reuters)

A new report on conventional arms transfers shows Syria imported nearly six times more weapons in 2007-2011 than in the previous five-year period, with Russia accounting for 72 percent of the arms supplies to President Bashar Assad’s regime.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute says major Russian arms deliveries to Syria included air defense systems and anti-ship missiles which have no direct use in the current unrest in the Arab state, according to The Associated Press.

But SIPRI researcher Pieter Wezeman says the weapons have upgraded the regime’s capability to defend against outside intervention.

 We brought Saleh’s time to an end and, God willing, (Syrian President) Bashar al-Assad’s time will also come to an end 
Yemeni Nobel Peace Laureate Tawakul Karman

Meanwhile, Yemeni Nobel Peace Laureate Tawakul Karman, a key figure in the revolt that brought down President Ali Abdullah Saleh, urged Syrian refugees in Turkey on Sunday not to lose hope, saying their president’s reign would also come to an end.

“The whole world knows you are right. The blood you have spilled will not go to waste, God willing. You will return to freedom,” Karman told a crowd of refugees inside the Boynuyogun camp, one of several in Turkey’s southern Hatay province.

“We brought Saleh’s time to an end and, God willing, (Syrian President) Bashar al-Assad’s time will also come to an end,” she told the crowd inside a large tent that serves as the camp’s makeshift mosque, according to Reuters.

The crowd responded, shouting “Allahu Akbar!” (God is greatest!) and waving their fists in the air.

Syria and Yemen have been caught up in a wave of ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings that have also unseated the rulers of Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

Karman, 33, an Islamist journalist and rights campaigner, dubbed the “Mother of the Revolution,” was an influential figure in the early days of the Yemen’s uprising against Saleh last year, and was briefly imprisoned for her involvement in the protests.

Wearing her trademark brightly-colored headscarf, Karman walked through the camp hugging and kissing women and lifting young children into the air. Refugees draped a Syrian flag around her shoulders.

“Bashar al-Assad will be brought in front of the international court. You will get your justice. Nobody can take your freedom. It won't take long, God willing,” she said.

But while the crowd cheered and sang songs, some were more pensive.

“Her words are good, but whatever she says cannot relieve the pain in my heart. Our people continue to die,” said one 46-year old woman outside the tent who declined to give her name.

A mother of nine, the woman said she had left some of her children in Syria. Two of her daughters were in Lebanon and two of her sons had managed to cross into Turkey and arrived at the camp a few days earlier.

“We cannot talk to our relatives in Syria. They have cut off the telephone lines,” she said.

“Our hearts are burning. Our eyes are stinging. We want these things to stop. Some of our children are here and some are in Syria,” said another woman dressed all in black.

Almost 16,000 Syrian refugees live in tented camps in Turkey, making up around half of the people the United Nations estimates to have fled Syria since the start of its uprising a year ago. Hundreds of thousands more are thought to be displaced within the country.

Over the past few weeks, the number of Syrians entering Turkey has increased with an average of 200 to 300 coming in every day. Last week 1,000 crossed in just 24 hours, the highest number since the first wave of refugees last summer.

Turkey fears a surge of refugees similar to the tens of thousands who crossed from Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War and on Friday it said it was considering creating a “buffer zone” inside Syria to protect the fleeing civilians, among other options.

More than 8,000 people have been killed since the start of the Syrian uprising just over a year ago, according to U.N. figures.

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