* UK told Moscow defence shipments must stop
* Syria receiving military hardware in ships
By Jonathan Saul and Thomas Grove
LONDON/MOSCOW June 19 (Reuters) - A cargo ship off the British coast carrying weapons bound for Syria has apparently turned back towards Russia, Britain's Foreign Secretary said on Tuesday, calling again for a halt to arms shipments to President Bashar al-Assad.
The Curacao-flagged cargo ship Alaed, last seen off the north-west coast of Scotland this week, was believed to carrying Russian weaponry to Syria, according to an insurer which said it had withdrawn coverage for the vessel.
Britain's Foreign Office had said earlier it was aware of a consignment of refurbished Russian-made attack helicopters heading for Syria, but did not say if it was referring to the same vessel.
"I am pleased that the ship that was reported to be carrying arms to Syria has now turned back apparently towards Russia," British Foreign Secretary William Hague told parliament.
"We have in place a European Union arms embargo on Syria. We discourage anyone else from supplying arms to Syria. We have had discussions with Russia about that specifically."
Russia has faced increasing Western criticism over arms supplies to Syria, where the United Nations says government forces have killed more than 10,000 people in a crackdown. Last month, the U.S. described the delivery of heavy Russian weapons in a shipment as "reprehensible".
Ship tracking data showed on Tuesday that the Alaed set off from the Russian port of Baltiisk in the Baltic province of Kaliningrad on June 11.
London-headquartered ship insurer Standard Club said it had been contacted about the vessel it had been covering, but did not say by whom.
"We were made aware of the allegations that the Alaed was carrying munitions destined for Syria and have already informed the ship owner that their insurance cover ceased automatically in view of the nature of the voyage," the insurer said.
Moscow-based Russian ship management and operator group Femco, operating the Alaed, offered no comment when contacted several times by Reuters about the ship and its cargo. But it said it would post comment on its website later on Tuesday with "true information".
Insurers would be obliged to withdraw coverage for any shipments violating European Union sanctions, including an arms embargo on Syria. Without insurance, the vessel could be forced either to dock at a port, drop its run to Syria or find a provider outside the European Union.
The Alaed was last seen off the coast of Scotland and declared as heading for the Russian port of Vladivostok where it was due to arrive on July 24, according to tracking data.
A Moscow-based defence analyst said the Alaed was carrying helicopters that were bought by Syria during the Soviet era and had been sent back to Russia for repair in the Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad.
"I am sure based on open source material that the ship is carrying 12-15 helicopters that were repaired in Kaliningrad and are on their way to Syria," said Ruslan Aliyev, who works at defence think tank CAST, referring to an order of Mi-25 helicopters.
"They were old helicopters bought by (Assad's late father and predecessor) Hafez al-Assad, I believe at the end of the 1980s."
SHIPMENT HALT URGED
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on June 12 that the United States was "concerned about the latest information we have that there are attack helicopters on the way from Russia to Syria." She said such a sale "will escalate the conflict quite dramatically."
The accusation angered Moscow, which says it is fulfilling existing contracts for air defence systems, for use against external attacks, and not delivering offensive weapons. Under pressure over continuing arms trade with Syria, President Vladimir Putin said earlier this month that the weapons its sends could not be used in civil conflicts.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said last week that Russia had sent no new helicopters to Syria but had repaired helicopters delivered to its government "many years ago". It gave no specifics about when any helicopters were repaired or sent back to Syria.
A source close to Russia's arms exporting monopoly Rosoboronexport said last week that Clinton may have been referring to helicopters that were sent to Russia in 2009 for repairs and may have been on the way back to Syria.
The source said at least nine Mi-25 helicopters were sent to Kaliningrad to be repaired by Oboronservis, owned by the Defence Ministry.
A rights group reported that the Professor Katsman ship had docked at the Syrian port of Tartous last month with a cache of heavy weapons for Assad. (Additional reporting by Mohammed Abbas in London)
U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tweets:
|@ AmbassadorRice : #Syria regime turned artillery, tanks and helicopters on its own men & women. It unleashed knife-wielding shabiha gangs on its own children.|
Russia says international envoy Kofi Annan will visit Moscow on Monday to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria. Russia also called for an inquiry into an alleged massacre that took place in the village of Tramseh on Thursday. "We have no doubt that this wrongdoing serves the interests of those powers that are not seeking peace but persistently seek to sow the seeds of interconfessional and civilian conflict on Syrian soil," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters. Moscow did not apportion blame for the killings.
Read more on Reuters.com.
The Associated Press obtained a video that purports to show the aftermath of an alleged massacre in the village of Tramseh, near Hama.
How do Syria's fighters get their arms? An overview put together by Reuters explains that there are three gateways to the country -- Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq.
Syrian rebels are smuggling small arms into Syria through a network of land and sea routes involving cargo ships and trucks moving through Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, maritime intelligence and Free Syrian Army (FSA) officers say. Western and regional powers deny any suggestion they are involved in gun running. Their interest in the sensitive border region lies rather in screening to ensure powerful weapons such as surface to air missiles do not find their way to Islamist or other militants.
Read the full report here.
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a man mourning a victim killed by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
According to the Hama Revolutionary Council, a Syrian opposition group, more than 220 people have been killed in a new alleged massacre in Taramseh. Earlier reports said more than 100 people were killed. "More than 220 people fell today in Taramseh," the Council said in a statement. "They died from bombardment by tanks and helicopters, artillery shelling and summary executions."
Fadi Sameh, an opposition activist from Taramseh, told Reuters he had left the town before the reported massacre but was in touch with residents. "It appears that Alawite militiamen from surrounding villages descended on Taramseh after its rebel defenders pulled out, and started killing the people. Whole houses have been destroyed and burned from the shelling," Sameh claimed.
Read more on Reuters.com.
Syrian activist Rami Jarrah tweets that Syrian State TV has confirmed deaths in Tremseh. "Terrorists" is often the term used by the Syrian regime for opposition forces.
|@ AlexanderPageSY : Syrian State TV: clashes between security apparatus & terrorists in #Tremseh of #Hama leaves large numbers of terrorists killed #Syria|
|@ Reuters : UPDATE: DEATH TOLL IN SYRIAN FORCES' ATTACK ON VILLAGE IN SYRIA'S HAMA REGION IS MORE THAN 200, MOSTLY CIVILIANS - OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS|