New York Times
A Turkish Foreign Ministry official said that a Russian ship thought to be carrying a cargo of munitions reached Syria on Thursday, in defiance of a European Union embargo, after stopping to refuel in Cyprus and receiving what the Turks said was inadequate scrutiny there.
“The Cypriot officials not only falsely included Turkey as the vessel’s destination, which seems to be originally Syria, but also failed in examining the vessel thoroughly to see whether it carried arms as speculated,” said the official, who spoke on the condition that he not be named because of his diplomatic status.
Cypriot officials had categorized the cargo of the ship, the Chariot, as “dangerous” in a written statement on Wednesday, and said the ship had stopped at Limassol, Cyprus, on Tuesday because of poor weather and a need to refuel.
The statement said that the officials received confirmation from the operator of the vessel, Westberg Limited of St. Petersburg, Russia, that it would not continue on to its originally intended destinations, Turkey and Syria.
But the Turkish Foreign Ministry said the ship arrived at the Syrian port of Tartus early on Thursday, without stopping anywhere in Turkey.
Officials seemed unable to say for certain what was in the ship’s hold.
“Actual examination of the content of the containers was not possible due to the narrow confines of the ship,” the Cypriot Foreign Ministry said Wednesday in a statement.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said it “cannot confirm whether the vessel carried around 60 tons of ammunition, as claimed in various news reports.”
Questions were also raised about a convoy of trucks that tried to enter Syria from Turkey on Thursday through the Oncupinar border post. The four trucks, registered in Iran, were stopped by Turkish officials for further examination, the Foreign Ministry official said.
“Turkey has to consider local and international regulations as well as embargoes and regimes imposed by international organizations like the United Nations to ensure the compatibility of the cargo destined for Syria,” he said. “Necessary controls are under way to determine what these lorries hold.”
Though Turkish officials say the country has tightened its border controls, Syrian official news outlets have accused Turkey at least three times in recent months of allowing armed groups to cross the border and confront the government’s forces. The Turkish government strongly denied the claims.
“Such news comes out of Syria for mainly propaganda reasons and never proves to be correct after our thorough examinations,” the Foreign Ministry official said.
At the same border crossing, a group of more than 100 dissident Syrians appeared Thursday on the Turkish side in a 20-vehicle convoy, saying they wanted to cross into Syria to deliver food and other humanitarian supplies to people in border towns, according to Erkan Capan, a local government official, the semiofficial Anatolian News Agency reported.
The group demonstrated, chanted slogans and waved flags in support of Syrian opposition groups before approaching the border crossing, the agency said. But the Turkish border police stopped them from crossing into Syria, citing safety concerns.
The Turkish Embassy in Damascus remains open, but diplomatic relations between the countries have deteriorated sharply. Turkish leaders have strongly criticized the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad over its violence against protesters, and have urged Mr. Assad to step down.
Turkey has also imposed trade sanctions, frozen the assets of senior Syrian officials and welcomed Syrian opposition leaders.