Middle East

Britain reportedly stops ship carrying Russian attack helicopters to Syria

June 18: Residents gather during the funeral of Hussein Omish, whom protesters say was killed by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.

June 18: Residents gather during the funeral of Hussein Omish, whom protesters say was killed by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.  (Reuters)

A British marine insurer cancelled its coverage of a Russian ship after learning the ship may be carrying helicopters and missiles to Syria, The Telegraph reported.

The ship, named MV Alaed, reportedly picked up the Mi25 helicopters known as “flying tanks,” which were being repaired at the Russian port of Kaliningrad, the report said. The helicopters were then shipped on a course that most likely would lead them to the Syrian port of Tartous, the report said.

The European Union, under sanctions announced last year, banned the export of arms to Syria and do not allow companies to provide insurance for those exports, the report said. With no insurance, sources tell the paper that the ship cannot complete its voyage.

After being informed by the British government that insuring the shipment would likely be a breach of EU sanctions, Standard Club, the insurer, reportedly stopped covering any ship owned by Femco, the Russian cargo line, The Telegraph said.

"We were made aware of the allegations that the Alaed was carrying munitions destined for Syria," the company said in a statement to the paper. "We have already informed the ship owner that their insurance cover ceased automatically in view of the nature of the voyage."

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Officials told the paper that they will continue to monitor the ship, which now sits off the coast to Hebrides, Scotland.

Meanwhile, Syria's government said Tuesday it was ready to act on a U.N. call to evacuate civilians who have been trapped in the rebellious central city of Homs for more than a week, but blamed rebels for obstructing efforts to do so.

Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, chief of the U.N. observer mission in the country, has told both sides of the conflict to allow safe passage from the city and other combat zones to women, children and sick people.

A Foreign Ministry statement carried by state-run news agency, SANA, said the government has contacted the U.N. mission and local authorities in Homs to start efforts to bring out the trapped civilians.

"But the efforts of the U.N. monitors' mission failed in achieving this goal because of the armed terrorist groups' obstructions," the statement said. It charged that armed groups were using innocent civilians as "human shields."

The Syrian government regularly refers to the rebels as terrorists.

There was no immediate comment from the U.N. mission.

On Sunday, Mood said the observers had been trying for the past week to bring out families and wounded trapped in Homs by regime shelling of rebel-held areas. The offensive is part of a broader push by President Bashar Assad's forces to regain rebel-held areas nationwide.

Activists say around 1,000 families have been trapped by ongoing government assaults in Homs. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says dozens of wounded people who could not get medicine or doctors to treat them were stuck there and in other rebel-controlled areas.

On Saturday, the U.N. said its 300 observers based in Syria were suspending all missions because of concerns for their safety after fighting intensified over the previous 10 days. But the monitors said they would remain in Damascus.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.