Doubts grow on ship as Qatar urges Syria action

Doubts grow on ship as Qatar urges Syria action

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Doubts grow on ship as Qatar urges Syria action

Suspicious ship anchores off Turkey’s southern province of İskenderun. AFP photo

A Russian ship suspected of delivering arms to Syria in violation of an EU arms embargo after an unscheduled stop in Greek Cyprus anchored off Turkey’s southern coast on Jan. 14, according to diplomatic sources.

Turkish coast guard and customs officials will board the vessel, the Chariot, before allowing it to dock at the port of İskenderun in the southern province of Hatay, the source told the Hürriyet Daily News, adding that the crew had notified authorities that the vessel was carrying cargo bound for a Turkish company in the nearby province of Gaziantep.

The Chariot left the Syrian port of Tartus early Jan. 14 and reached İskenderun late the same day; the captain’s messages also confirmed that the ship had arrived from Syria.

The Syrian-bound ship dropped anchor off the southern Greek Cypriot port of Limassol on Jan. 10 after running low on fuel because of high seas, according to government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou. Customs officials inspecting the vessel found that it was carrying “dangerous cargo” inside four containers, Finance Minister Kikis Kazamias said.

Its arrival in the EU member country meant the vessel should have been subjected to the embargo the union imposed on Damascus due to the regime’s crackdown on the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.

But Greek Cyprus allowed the Chariot to leave Jan. 11 after the ship’s owners, St. Petersburg-based Westberg Ltd., said it would head to Turkey instead of Syria.

The ship then vanished off radar screens after apparently switching off its Automatic Identification System (AIS), which tracks vessels.

Turkish officials said Jan. 12 that its Navy intelligence units determined that the vessel had made its way to Tartus after leaving Greek Cyprus.

Arms-trafficking specialist Hugh Griffiths told the Associated Press that the Chariot was a ship designed to carry dangerous cargo such as ammunition, explosives and missiles and has a history of delivering arms to sensitive destinations in the Middle East and Africa.

Switching off one’s AIS is “standard operating procedure” for ships involved in drug-trafficking and clandestine arms shipments, he said.

Qatar proposes sending Arab troops to Syria


Qatar has proposed sending Arab troops to halt the bloodshed in Syria, becoming the first Arab state that has suggested military intervention in Syria. After Qatar’s proposal, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad granted a general amnesty for crimes committed during the unrest of the past 10 months.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said al-Assad might not keep his promise about amnesty. “Al-Assad previously made similar statements, but unfortunately the promises had not been kept so far,” Davutoğlu told reporters in Lebanon yesterday. “We have heard such statements so many times before. After my visit to Syria in April 2011, martial law and emergency rule were lifted in Syria, but instead a more oppressive regime was imposed. Now, a general pardon is declared,” said Davutoğlu.

Syria’s news agency SANA said the amnesty issued yesterday covered those who have peacefully demonstrated, those who have carried unlicensed weapons and those who hand over their weapons to authorities before the end of January. It also applies to Army deserters who fled military service if they turn themselves in before Jan. 31.

On Qatar’s proposed intervention, Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani told the U.S. broadcaster CBS: “For such a situation to stop the killing ... some troops should go to stop the killing.” Qatar had backed last year’s NATO campaign that helped Libyan rebels topple Moammar Gadhafi. Qatar’s prime minister heads the Arab League committee on Syria and has said killings have not stopped despite the presence of Arab monitors sent there last month.

Meanwhile, Nabil al-Arabi, the Arab League’s secretary-general, said the next Arab Summit, slated to take place in March in Baghdad, will be held on time, adding that the summit will discuss the Qatari proposal of sending Arab troops to Syria.

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