Image: Syrian rebels take their position behind a wall as they fire their guns during a battle with the Syrian government forces
Str  /  AP
Syrian rebels take their position behind a wall as they fire their guns during a battle with the Syrian government forces, at Rastan area in Homs province, central Syria, Tuesday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 2/2/2012 9:26:05 AM ET 2012-02-02T14:26:05

Russia will not stop selling arms to Syria, a top defense official said Thursday, as Moscow stands by its longtime ally despite mounting international condemnation over the Syrian regime's bloody crackdown on a 10-month-old uprising.

Russia's Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said his country is not violating any international obligations by selling weapons to Damascus.

"As of today there are no restrictions on our delivery of weapons," he told journalists in Russia, according to the country's state news agencies. "We must fulfill our obligations and this is what we are doing."

Moscow has been one of Syria's most powerful allies — along with Iran — as Syria tries to crush the revolt against President Bashar Assad. The U.N. estimates that more than 5,400 people have been killed in the government crackdown.

$550 million combat jet deal
Moscow's stance is motivated in part by its strategic and defense ties, including weapons sales, with Syria.

But Russia also rejects what it sees as a a world order dominated by the U.S. Last month, Russia reportedly signed a $550-million deal to sell combat jets to Syria.

U.N. ambassadors this week are trying to overcome Russia's opposition to a draft resolution at the Security Council calling for Assad to surrender power.

Slideshow: Struggle in Syria (on this page)

Moscow says it would veto the draft because it believes it opens the way for eventual international military action.

"It's way too soon in my judgment to know whether ultimately there will be agreement," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice told reporters. "It's long past time for this council to take meaningful action," she said.

Western envoys in New York said the main sticking point was likely to be not military intervention, on which they were confident agreement could be reached, but the resolution's support for the Arab League plan demanding Assad give up power. That is seen by Moscow as tantamount to change of government.

The envoys said their biggest challenge would be to reword the draft so that it still endorses the plan but in a way that is weaker than the current version.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters: "Every member of the council has to make a decision: Whose side are you on? Are you on the side of the Syrian people? ... Or are you on the side of a brutal, dictatorial regime?"

Video: Clinton: 'Syria belongs to its citizens' (on this page)

Wiam Wahhab, a pro-Syrian Lebanese politician, met Tuesday with Assad in Damascus.

"I found him relaxed and sure. He is confident in the Russian position," Wahhab told the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar in an interview published Thursday.

Wahhab said Assad told him he will end the uprising, because "the cost of chaos is much worse than the cost of decisiveness."

As the diplomatic push continues, however, Syrian activists Thursday marked the 30-year anniversary of a massacre in the city of Hama.

Notorious massacre
The three-week assault on the rebellious city in 1982 leveled entire neighborhoods and killed thousands of people in one of the most notorious massacres in the modern Middle East.

The attack was carried out when Assad's father, Hafez, was president — and it has become a rallying cry for some Syrian protesters who want to topple the family dynasty now, once and for all.

On Thursday, many of the city's residents were observing a general strike to mark the anniversary, said Ahmed Jimejmi, a resident. Protests were planned, he said, but security forces flooded the streets in anticipation.

Hundreds of troops and security forces were in the city, including Al-Assi square, and troops set up flying checkpoints, asking for people's IDs.

"There is a checkpoint every 100 meters (100 yards)," he said.

Graffiti on the walls read: "Hafez died, and Hama didn't. Bashar will die, and Hama won't."

Activists painted two streets in Hama red to symbolize blood, and threw red dye in the waters of Hama's famous and ancient water wheels.

However Hama activists said fire trucks washed away the dye.

"They want to kill the memory and they do not want us to remember," said an activist in the city, where residents said tanks blocked main squares to prevent demonstrations. "But we will not accept it."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: Clinton: 'Syria belongs to its citizens'

Photos: Syrian uprising

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  1. Syrian soldiers, who defected to join the Free Syrian Army, are seen among demonstrators during a protest against President Bashar al-Assad in Idlib in this handout picture received on Tuesday, Jan. 31. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Syrian soldiers on an armored military vehicle are seen in Deir Balaba, near Homs, on Tuesday. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A Syrian rebel takes position during a battle with government forces at Rastan area in Homs province, central Syria, on Tuesday. Syrian troops crushed pockets of rebels Tuesday on the outskirts of Damascus, fueling some of the bloodiest fighting of the 10-month-old uprising, as Western diplomats tried to overcome Russia's rejection of a draft U.N. resolution demanding President Bashar Assad halt the violence and yield power. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Secretary General of the League of Arab States Nabil Elaraby speaks during a Security Council meeting about Syria at United Nations headquarters on Tuesday. Western diplomats tried to overcome Russia's rejection of a draft U.N. resolution demanding President Bashar Assad halt the violence and yield power. (Seth Wenig / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Smoke is seen from Homs refinery on Tuesday. An explosion set fire to a crude oil pipeline feeding a Syrian oil refinery in the city of Homs on Tuesday, residents said. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visits wounded troops, injured in clashes with rebels against his regime, at Youssef al-Azmaha military hospital, in Damascus on Tuesday in this handout photograph released by Syria's national news agency. (Sana / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Syrian army defectors distribute bread for children, in the Rastan area in Homs province, central Syria, on Monday Jan. 30. Syrian forces heavily shelled the restive city of Homs on Monday, and troops pushed back dissident troops from some suburbs on the outskirts of Damascus in an offensive trying to regain control of the capital's eastern doorstep, activists said. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A pro-Assad policeman is beaten by protesters during the funeral of Mazen abou Dhahab, who was killed in a protest in Saqba, Damascus suburbs on Friday, Jan. 27. (Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Syrian government supporters carry a massive national flag during a pro-regime rally in Damascus on Thursday, Jan. 26. (Louai Beshara / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Syrian soldiers secure a checkpoint in Homs on Monday, Jan. 23. Syria on Monday rebuffed as a "conspiracy" an Arab League call for President Bashar al-Assad to step down in favor of a unity government to calm a 10-month-old revolt in which thousands of Syrians have been killed. (Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A demonstrator holds a picture of a missing relative during a protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Baba Amro, near Homs, in this handout picture received on Sunday, Jan. 22. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: Syrian soldiers who defected to join the Free Syrian Army are seen among demonstrators during a protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Idlib
    Reuters
    Above: Slideshow (11) Struggle in Syria - Syrian uprising
  2. Image:
    Ayman Mohyeldin / NBC News
    Slideshow (10) Struggle in Syria - A glimpse inside Syria

Data: Young and restless: Demographics fuel Mideast protests

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