BEIRUT — Rights activists visiting abandoned government prisons in the first Syrian city to come under rebel control have found torture devices and other evidence that detainees were abused there, Human Rights Watch said in a report Friday.
Raqqa, in eastern Syria, was overrun in late February by rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad. The rebels facilitated the New York-based group’s access to facilities that had belonged to a government security agency and military intelligence in late April.
In Russia, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov defended his country’s continuing arms shipments to Syria, saying they violate no international norms. His statement followed media reports saying Russia had recently delivered an advanced version of Yakhont antiship cruise missiles to Syria.
Russia has been one of Syria’s strongest allies and, along with China, has vetoed three Western-backed resolutions proposed to the United Nations that aimed to pressure Assad to end the violence.
Lavrov, speaking after his talks with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, avoided specific comment on the Yakhont or other weapons deals, but insisted that the deliveries don’t violate any international treaties.
Asked about Western criticism of Russia over its missiles sales to Syria, Lavrov said: ‘‘I don’t understand why the media are trying to make a sensation out of it. We haven’t tried to conceal that we have been supplying weapons to Syria under contracts signed earlier without violating any international treaties and Russian laws.’’
He insisted that Russia is providing Syria ‘‘primarily with defensive weapons, air defense systems.’’ Lavrov said such weapons shipments don’t tilt the balance of power in the region and can’t be used by the Syrian regime to fight the rebels in the country’s civil war.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki told reporters that ‘‘it seems that these cases that were reported this morning have been previously reported.’’ She added that ‘‘we’re not aware of new shipments of these specific missiles.’’
Also Friday, a squadron of five Russian Navy ships from the Pacific Fleet arrived in the port city of Limassol in the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, a Russian Navy statement said.
Russia has pledged to revive a permanent presence in the Mediterranean its navy had during Soviet times. Rotating squadrons of Russian Navy ships have visited the area repeatedly over the past two years in what was seen as a demonstration of its military’s global reach and a gesture of support for Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.