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She did not explain why, but critics fear that Western arms would only prolong the conflict without tipping the scales decisively. There are also concerns that the weapons, including anti-aircraft missiles, could fall into the hands of Islamic extremists who might use them against Western targets.
"Whether it would be successful or not is a different question, but in my view the risks would be incalculable," Merkel said. "But I think everyone who has a heart understands the wish to stop the killing in Syria and to remove the Assad regime."
In Moscow, the Defense Ministry said that Russia has withdrawn all military personnel from its naval base in Syria and replaced them with civilian workers.
The ministry did not say when the switch at the base at Tartus took place or how many personnel were deployed there. The minor facility is Russia’s only naval outpost outside the former Soviet Union and consists of several barracks and depots used to service Russian navy ships in the Mediterranean.
The ministry statement said that Tartus has continued to service the Russian navy ships.
The ministry didn’t explain why it was replacing military personnel with civilians, but the move could be part of efforts by Moscow to portray itself as an objective mediator trying to broker peace talks in the civil war.
Russia has been Assad’s main ally, shielding his regime from the U.N. Security Council’s sanctions and continuing to provide it with weapons.
Moscow also has an unknown number of military advisers in Syria who help its military operate and maintain Soviet- and Russian-built weapons that make up the core of its arsenal.
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