Finland investigates arms smuggling attempt to Syria, container held

Published: Updated:

An attempt to smuggle arms to Syria through a Helsinki port after intercepting a container with tank spare parts last month is currently under investigation by Finnish customs officials.

Parts found in the container, Finnlines’ Finnsun ship at the Vuosaari port, were confiscated by customs.

The container appeared to have been sent from Russia to Syria, Reuters reported, citing a statement from customs, adding that there had been no requests for permission of such a delivery.

The European Union prohibits the delivery of arms from its countries to Syria, where almost 70,000 people have been killed in two years of civil war, according to the United Nations.

The captain of the ship and Finnlines staff have been questioned, the customs office said, adding that it was also asking for help from other countries.

Russia supplied nearly $1 billion worth of arms to Syria in 2011 and is a longstanding ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Events on the ground in Syria on Friday harshly developed as army and rebels announced ther were for a major battle for control of strategic airports in Aleppo, a watchdog said, four days after insurgents launched assaults on airbases in the northern province.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said intermittent clashes were reported around Aleppo international airport, Nayrab airbase and another military complex as the two sides readied for a major fight.

“The army shelled the area around Aleppo international airport and Nayrab air base on Friday morning, while rebels used homemade rockets to shell Nayrab,” said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

“The army is preparing a large-scale operation to take back control of Base 80,” Abdel Rahman added, referring to a military complex tasked with managing both Nayrab and Aleppo airports.

Rebels seized the base on Wednesday after a battle that left at least 150 dead from both sides, among them senior army officers, said the Observatory.

Insurgents fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime “are trying to take control of Nayrab and to destroy the runways at Aleppo international airport, which the army is using for military purposes,” said Abdel Rahman.

Activists in Aleppo have said the rebel Free Syrian Army shifted its focus weeks ago from the city to airbases in the province.

Insurgents see the capture of airports such as Al-Jarrah, also in Aleppo province, on Tuesday as a way to seize large amounts of ammunition and to put out of action warplanes used by the regime air force to bombard rebel-held areas.

Regime tanks, meanwhile, shelled the town of Khan Sheykhun in the province of Idlib, killing at least 11 civilians, said the Observatory.

In Damascus, the army shelled the eastern district of Jobar, where rebels have set up enclaves, the Britain-based group said.

Friday’s violence came a day after at least 155 people were killed across Syria, it said.

The U.N. says almost 70,000 people have been killed in Syria’s 23-month conflict.

See here what is left of Assad's regime: The Lion's Den