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Arms Trader Says Russia Fulfilling Contracts With Syria

APThe debris of an American-made plane used in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war displayed Saturday in Damascus, Syria.

Russia is supplying Syria with jets, armored vehicles and air-defense systems under existing contracts, a Russian arms trader said, prompting an outcry from Israel.

President Dmitry Medvedev visited Syria last week and discussed arms contracts, though no new deals were signed, said Mikhail Dmitriyev, head of the Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation.

Under existing contracts, Russia is supplying MiG-29 fighter jets, Pantsir short-range air-defense systems and anti-aircraft artillery systems to Syria, Dmitriyev said.

He said Russia would also supply Damascus with anti-tank weapons, but did not specify their type.

“There are quite a few contracts to repair and upgrade systems delivered in the Soviet era,” he told reporters Friday.

Syria's regional foe, Israel, reacted angrily to the deal but called into question the solvency of Damascus.

"Syria at the present time cannot afford to pay for this sophisticated weaponry. Indeed, it has hardly enough money to buy food for its citizens. One can only wonder what is the real reason behind this dubious deal," said an Israeli official in Jerusalem who declined to be identified.

The United States has imposed sanctions on Syria for its support of militant groups and for corruption.

Medvedev also unnerved Israel during his visit to Syria — the first by a Moscow ruler since the 1917 Revolution — by paying a visit to Khaled Meshaal, the exiled leader of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas.

"Russia's haste to win this contract has seen it even willing to meet with notorious Hamas leaders in Syria," the Israeli official said.

Israel's Foreign Ministry said it was "deeply disappointed" that Medvedev met the leader of Hamas, which it said was "a terror organization in every way."

The United States, the European Union and Israel consider Hamas a terrorist group. Russia insists that Hamas should not be isolated. Russia, the United States, the EU and the United Nations make up a quartet of Middle East mediators.

In Moscow, the Foreign Ministry rebuffed Israel's criticism of Medvedev's meeting with the leader of Hamas.

"Hamas … is a movement supported by the trust and sympathy of a significant part of Palestinians," Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said in a statement. "We have regular contacts with this movement."

The Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation, meanwhile, said Friday that Russia was in talks to sell helicopters and air-defense systems to Turkey.

(Bloomberg, Reuters)

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