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Israel warns Russia against Sending Anti-Aircraft Weapons to Syrian Government

Russia has said it will supply one of its most advanced anti-aircraft missile systems to the Syrian government, hours after the EU ended its arms embargo on the rebels, raising the prospect of a rapidly escalating proxy war in the region if peace talks in Geneva fail next month.

Israel quickly issued a thinly veiled warning that it would bomb the Russian S-300 missiles if they were sent to Syria, as such a move would bring the advanced guided missiles within range of civilian and military planes over Israel.

Israel has conducted three sets of air strikes on Syria this year, aimed at preventing missiles being brought close to its border by the Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah.

“The shipments haven’t set out yet and I hope they won’t,” Moshe Ya’alon, the Israeli defense minister, said. “If they do arrive in Syria, God forbid, we’ll know what to do.”

Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergey Ryabkov, argued that the delivery of the S-300 system had been previously agreed upon with Damascus and would be a stabilizing factor that could dissuade “some hotheads” from entering the conflict.

That appeared to be a reference to the U.K. and France, who pushed through the lifting of the EU embargo on Monday night and are the only European countries considering arming the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA).

However, London and Paris said they had not yet taken the decision to send arms, and would not do so until after the Geneva peace talks, tentatively scheduled for mid-June.

“We have said we have made our own commitments, that at this stage as we work for the Geneva conference we are not taking any decision to send any arms to anyone,” William Hague, the U.K. foreign secretary, said.

British officials said the lifting of the embargo had a political purpose, increasing pressure on President Bashar al-Assad and his supporters, Russia and Iran, to make concessions at Geneva, and most importantly to agree not to play a role in a transitional Syrian government.

If that fails, the officials said, Western arms supplies would strengthen moderate elements in the opposition who are currently outgunned and outfinanced by jihadist groups.

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