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Military tensions around Syria shot up again Monday, June 18, with an Iranian report that a joint Russian-Chinese-Iranian exercise is to take place in Syria, called “the biggest of its kind ever staged in the Middle East,” with 90,000 personnel, 400 air planes and 900 tanks taking part. debkafile: This would be the first time Russia and China have deployed substantial military strength in the Middle East. It points to their determination to deter a US-lead military operation against the Assad regime.
Two Russian navy ships are completing preparations to sail to Syria with a unit of marines on a mission to protect Russian citizens and the nation's base there, a news report said Monday. The deployment appears to reflect Moscow's growing concern about Syrian President Bashar Assad's future.
The Interfax news agency quoted an unidentified Russian navy official as saying that the two amphibious landing vessels, Nikolai Filchenkov and Caesar Kunikov, will be heading shortly to the Syrian port of Tartus, but didn't give a precise date.
Each ship is capable of carrying up to 300 marines and a dozen tanks, according to Russian media reports. That would make it the largest known Russian troop deployment to Syria, signaling that Moscow is becoming increasingly uneasy about Syria's slide toward civil war.
Iran is currently holding talks with six Western powers over the fate of its nuclear program. The talks, said to be held in a tense atmosphere in Moscow, seek to alleviate world concerns that the Islamic Republic is developing nuclear weapons.
Syria meanwhile faces international pressure to end a 15-month crackdown on local rebels trying to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad.
China and Russia have come to the aid of both countries in recent months at the UN Security Council, vetoing military intervention in Syria and expanded sanctions on Iran.
Sources also said that Egypt has acceded to grant passage to 12 Chinese warships to sail through the Suez Canal, adding that the military convoy is due to dock at the Syrian harbors in the next two weeks.
Russian atomic submarines and warships, aircraft carriers and mine-clearing destroyers as well as Iranian battleships and submarines will also arrive in Syria at around the same date.
Syria plans to test its coast-to-sea and air defense missiles in the wargames.
A sum of 400 warplanes and 1,000 tanks will also be used in the exercises. A Syrian official, who asked to remain anonymous, had informed two weeks ago that the drills would be conducted in Syria soon.