BREAKING: Russian Warships reported in Syria

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Ahram Online is reporting this morning:

Russia sends naval flotilla to Syrian port: Report
As Russian warships arrive at naval base at Syrian port Moscow denies flotilla mission is linked to escalating violence in the country as reported by Interfax news agency
AFP, Tuesday 10 Jul 2012

Russia has sent a naval flotilla of six warships led by an anti-submarine destroyer to its naval base at the Syrian port of Tartus, the Interfax news agency reported Tuesday.

The Admiral Chabanenko and three landing craft have left their home port of Severomorsk in the Arctic Circle on their way to the Mediterranean where they will be joined by the Russian patrol ship Yaroslav Mudry as well as an assistance vessel, a military source told the agency.

"The programme of the voyage includes a call in the Syrian port of Tartus," the unnamed source told the news agency.

The source said the trip was taking place in line with the plans of military readiness of the Russian fleet. According to Interfax, the source insisted that the deployment "was not linked to the escalation of the situation in Syria."

"In Tartus the ships are going to top up on supplies of fuel, water and foodstuffs," the source said, adding that their deployment in the Mediterranean would last until the end of September.

There has been talk of a Russian Naval force heading for their naval base in Syria since the middle of last month. It looks like they have finally arrived.

Also in the Breaking News department on Syria today, we have reports [AFP] that Kofi Annan is in Iraq for talks with Maliki on Syria.

Things are happening very fast in the Syrian situation right now, Watch is diary for updates throughout the day.

MORE BREAKING NEWS: Kofi Annans new "hotspots" peace plan has been leaked today the Guardian live blog is reporting:

• Details have emerged of Kofi Annan's new "ground up" ceasefire plan for Syria, starting with a single "hotspot" and extending from there. Minutes of Annan's meeting with Assad appear to have been leaked to a Lebanese newspaper (see 4.16pm).

• Annan said today that Iran should be "part of the solution" to the crisis in Syria, after meeting Iran's foreign minister in Tehran. Last month Annan wanted Iran to be invited to a meeting of his 'action group' on Syria, in Geneva, but the US and UK objected.

• Russia has offered to hosts new talks on Syria, after opposition leaders travelled to Moscow for talks. Meanwhile, Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is to visit to Moscow next week (see 3.53pm).

• Jordan is to open emergency camps for Syrians fleeing the continuing violence. The activist group the Local Co-ordination Committees in Syria said 28 people have been killed in Syria today. It recorded 12 deaths in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor.

4.16pm: Syria: The Lebanese daily al-Akhbar, regarded as sympathetic to the Assad regime, appears to have been given the Syrian government's minutes of the Assad-Annan meeting yesterday.

The report is in Arabic, but the ArabSaga blog has an English translation. It adds some detail to Annan's remark earlier today about "an approach from the ground up in some of the districts where we have extreme violence" (see 1.46pm).

"So let's try again, let's agree a mechanism for a ceasefire starting with any one of the (Syrian) hotspots. We can then duplicate it in another," Annan suggested.

Once again, Assad proved fully amenable before asking his guests: "We are a state, government and official authority, which means when we give you our word on a ceasefire we become accountable to you. But who will you be negotiating with on the other side?"

At this point, Annan began answering together with Gen Mood [head of the UN observer mission, who was also present].

Annan and Mood said, "We at least got to know the major groups. We got to know their chiefs. True, they don't have a unified command or a clear command structure. Their armed chaos is massive. But we got to know their key figures. That's why we believe we can work and proceed with them step by step."

Annan is then quoted as saying:

Let's try again. Our observers would reach an agreement with the armed groups in the area where we choose to start. At the same time, we would ask for a goodwill gesture on your part in the chosen area. The gesture would see you observe a unilateral ceasefire in the designated area, of say four hours, pending the mutual ceasefire's entry into force.

Later in the meeting, according to the report, Assad named Dr Ali Haidar, minister of state for national reconciliation affairs, as his nominee for any talks with the opposition.

Annan said he would have preferred "someone closer" to Assad, but Assad is said to have replied:

Dr Haidar and I shared adjoining desks throughout my university years specialising in ophthalmology. Do you want someone closer than that? Anyway, I think your greater difficulty will be on the other side, not on ours. Will you be able to get a name to represent the opposition?

In related breaking news this morning, Jay Solomon and Keith Johnson are reporting in the WSJ that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is sending diesel fuel to Assad. All the protesters aren't dead yet so they've got to keep those tanks rolling.

Mass protest in Aleppo today | July 10, 2012

Anti-government protest kicked off in the Kisweh suburb of Damascus | July 10, 2012

Victims of random shelling on Kafar Sejneh village in Idlib province last night

Joret Alshayyah,Homs, Assad's rockets hitting the heavily populated neighborhood | July 10, 2012

A child wounded by Assad's forces in Homs today

Here are my related diaries on Syria:
BREAKING: #Russia changing on #Assad but not as fast as conditions in #Syria
UN Observers say violence in Syria is ‘Unprecedented’
BREAKING: Defection of major Assad insider reported in Syria
BREAKING: WikiLeaks releases 2.4 million #Syria emails
When did "Never Again" become "Whenever?" | #Douma
BREAKING: Incredible mass rally in Aleppo, Syria today!
BREAKING: HRW releases torture report on Syria
BREAKING: Syrian General defects with 293 to Turkey
BREAKING: Items not in the MSM on Syria
My response to Phyllis Bennis: Where is the non-violent opposition in Syria?
BREAKING: Syrian Air Force attacks Douma, 10m from Damascus, thousands flee
BREAKING: As Syria Burns, UN Blows More Smoke
BREAKING: Kofi Annan to propose Syrian unity gov't sans Assad!
BREAKING: Douma, Syria under massive attack, another massacre feared
BREAKING: Another mass defection from Syrian army
BREAKING: #NATO says No War in #Syria shoot down of #Turkey jet
NATO meetup tomorrow as more defect from Syria
BREAKING: Turkey calls for NATO consult on downing of jet by Syria
BREAKING: Senior Syrian Officers Defect
UPDATED: Russia reported to be preparing to evacuate from Syria
BREAKING: Syria fighter pilot defects
BREAKING: Britain stops Russian ship carrying attack helicopters for Syria
BREAKING: Russian troops headed to Syria
Qaddafi forces Strike Back in Libya
BREAKING: UN suspends mission in Syria
Libya & Syria - two videos - no comment
BREAKING: Russia denies supplying Syria with NEW attack helicopters
Syrian people rise up against the massacre
Another "Houla style" massacre in Syria
Fake Houla Massacre Photo: Was the BBC set up?
Idlib, Syria protest today on anniversary of Kent State killings
BREAKING: Massive protests in Syria following Friday pray
Syria is bleeding
Syria: Ceasefire faltering as mass protests breakout

Thu Jul 12, 2012 at 5:31 AM PT: RIA Novosti is now saying that the Russian warships are being sent to Syria to break any blockade:

Moscow, July 12 (IANS/RIA Novosti) Russian Navy warships will be sent to defend Russian merchant vessels in the event of a blockade due to the situation in Syria, an official said.

"The fleet will be sent on task to guarantee the safety of our ships, to prevent anyone interfering with them in the event of a blockade. I remind you, there are no limits," said Vyacheslav Dzirkaln, deputy head of Russia's military technical cooperation agency.