Russia firm to take over Syria port for 49 years: Damascus

Russia has been a key ally of President Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria’s eight-year civil war. (AP)
Updated 25 April 2019
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Russia firm to take over Syria port for 49 years: Damascus

  • A deal would be signed for the “management, expansion and operation” of port of Tartus

A Russian firm is to take over Syria’s largest port for 49 years and invest $500 million in expanding it, the transport minister in Damascus said Thursday.

A deal would be signed for the “management, expansion and operation” of port of Tartus with Russian company Stroytransgaz, Transport Minister Ali Hammoud was quoted as telling pro-government newspaper Al-Watan.

“The length of the contract — 49 years — was decided after a feasibility study” so both sides could reap benefits, it said.

Russia has been a key ally of President Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria’s eight-year civil war, providing it with crucial military backing.

The minister on Tuesday told Syrian state television that the port, which started operating in the 1960s, was not deep enough to allow heavy ships to dock.

“Tartus is an old port whose docks range between four and 13 meters deep,” he said.

The current facilities are not suitable for ships heavier than 30-35 tons and “we needed to try to ensure very deep docks to accommodate cargoes of up to 100 tons.”

The expansion works are expected to increase the eastern Mediterranean port’s capacity from 4 million to 38 million tons a year, Hammoud said.

He told Al-Watan that the project would help lessen the burden of international sanctions against the Damascus regime since the start of the war in 2011.

On Saturday, Russian media quoted the country’s Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov as saying a deal for the port was in the works.

“We hope the deal will be signed within a week,” Russian news agency RIA Novosti quoted him as saying after meeting Assad in Damascus.

Backed by Russian air power since 2015, Assad has made great military gains against rebels and jihadists, and the regime now holds up to 60 percent of the country.

Even during the war, Russian companies have invested in Syria’s oil, gas and mining sectors and won contracts to build flour mills and water-pumping stations.


Iran says Revolutionary Guard shoots down US drone

Updated 2 min 1 sec ago
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Iran says Revolutionary Guard shoots down US drone

  • The attacks come against the backdrop of heightened tensions between the US and Iran
  • Capt. Bill Urban, a US Central Command spokesman, declined to comment when asked if an American drone was shot down

TEHRAN, Iran: Iran's Revolutionary Guard said Thursday it shot down a US drone amid heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington over its collapsing nuclear deal. The US military declined to immediately comment.
The reported shootdown of the RQ-4 Global Hawk comes after the US military previously alleged Iran fired a missile at another drone last week that responded to the attack on two oil tankers near the Gulf of Oman. The US blames Iran for the attack on the ships, which Tehran denies.
The attacks come against the backdrop of heightened tensions between the US and Iran following President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers a year ago. The White House separately said it was aware of reports of a missile strike on Saudi Arabia amid a campaign targeting the kingdom by Yemen's Iranian-allied Houthi militia.
Iran recently has quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium and threatened to boost its enrichment closer to weapons-grade levels, trying to pressure Europe for new terms to the 2015 deal.
In recent weeks, the US has sped an aircraft carrier to the Mideast and deployed additional troops to the tens of thousands already in the region. Mysterious attacks also have targeted oil tankers as Iranian-allied Houthi militia launched bomb-laden drones into Saudi Arabia.
All this has raised fears that a miscalculation or further rise in tensions could push the US and Iran into an open conflict, some 40 years after Tehran's Islamic Revolution.
Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, which answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said it shot down the drone Thursday morning when it entered Iranian airspace near the Kouhmobarak district in southern Iran's Hormozgan province. Kouhmobarak is some 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) southeast of Tehran and is close to the Strait of Hormuz.
Iran's state-run IRNA news agency, citing the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, identified the drone as an RQ-4 Global Hawk.
Capt. Bill Urban, a US Central Command spokesman, declined to comment when asked if an American drone was shot down.
However, he told The Associated Press: “There was no drone over Iranian territory.”
Meanwhile, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Trump had been “briefed on the reports of a missile strike in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
“We are closely monitoring the situation and continuing to consult with our partners and allies,” Sanders said.
The Houthi's Al-Masirah satellite news channel claimed the militia targeted a power plant in Jizan, near the kingdom's border with Yemen, with a cruise missile. Saudi state media and officials did not immediately report a missile strike Thursday.