150 Russians to flee Syria bloodbath via Beirut: diplomat

BEIRUT, Jan 22, 2013 (AFP) -Up to 150 Russians are preparing to flee the bloodshed in Syria over the next two days on board two planes sent to Beirut from Moscow, a Russian diplomat told AFP on Tuesday.
The diplomat insisted that the airlift was not the start of an operation to evacuate Russian nationals from Syria.
"There are thousands of Russian citizens in Syria. The issue is that the Russian airline is no longer flying to Damascus, so we are helping some 100, maximum 150 people to leave Syria via Beirut, which is very close," the diplomat said on the condition of anonymity.
"We are simply helping people who have gone to the Russian consulate in Damascus requesting assistance."
Though the Russian consulate in Damascus is open, the road linking the international airport to the capital has fallen prey to violence in recent weeks as rebels seek to cut off the regime's main link to the outside world.
The diplomat downplayed earlier reports that Moscow was evacuating its citizens from Syria.
"This is not an evacuation. There is no pressure at all on Russians in Syria to leave the country, because there are many areas in Damascus which are completely safe and free from violence or any clashes," the diplomat said.
He, however, said that the planes scheduled to leave on Tuesday and Wednesday would not be the last to help Russians flee the strife-torn country.
"It will be an ongoing operation. Whenever enough people request assistance at the consulate in Damascus, we will organise for new planes," the diplomat added.
Moscow, a staunch ally of Damascus, has been steadfast in its support of President Bashar al-Assad's regime since the conflict erupted in March 2011.

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