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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Syria: Assad Visit Not About Arms

DAMASCUS, Syria -- Syria has the right to arm itself in the face of Israeli aggression, but the purchase of Russian missiles is not on the agenda of next week's Syrian-Russian summit, a Syrian government newspaper said Wednesday.

In an editorial, Al-Baath newspaper, the mouthpiece of the ruling Baath party, said President Bashar Assad will not be discussing any sale of Russian weapons to Syria "because the problems in the region -- Palestine, Iraq and the [Middle East] peace process -- have the top priority."

Assad is due to visit Russia for four days, beginning Tuesday.

The state-run Al-Thawra newspaper said Wednesday that Assad's talks with President Vladimir Putin would deal mainly with the issue of Syria's debt to Russia and the possibility of writing off most of it. The debt is estimated at around $12 billion and much of it dates back to the days of the former Soviet Union.

Israel recently accused Russia of planning to sell advanced Igla SA-18 missiles to Syria and asked Moscow to call off the sale, arguing the shoulder-held, anti-aircraft missiles could disrupt stability if they fell into the hands of guerrillas.

Both Syria and Russia denied the Israeli claims, but the issue clouded Israel-Russia relations.

Al-Baath said the "orchestrated" fuss over the missiles deal was "a desperate and hopeless attempt to trouble and abort Assad's visit."