Syrian Tanks Arrive on Saudi Soil to Check Iraq With AM-Gulf Rdp, Bjt
YANBU, Saudi Arabia (AP) _ Syrian tanks and the lead elements of an armored division landed Sunday in Saudi Arabia to join the Arab forces sent to the region in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.
Saudi Prince Khalid, commander of all Arab troops deployed in the sands south of Iraq and Kuwait, saluted and warmly greeted the Syrian troops.
″We are all here to fight if it’s necessary,″ said Khalid, commander of the Saudi air force and nephew of King Fahd.
″We are all in the same line,″ Khalid said at a dockside news conference. ″It is really a pleasure to have a Syrian armored division here. That makes me very happy.″
The Syrian troops ″will be under the Saudi flag,″ the prince said. But he noted they have ″a direct line″ to their president, Hafez Assad.
Maj. Gen. Ali Habib, commander of Syrian troops in Saudi Arabia, refused to answer questions. But a spokesman said between 2,500 and 3,000 troops were aboard the cargo ship Saudi Qassim. The remaining elements of the 15,000- member 9th Armored Division would arrive in the next few weeks, Saudi officials said.
The Syrian vanguard consisted of Soviet-made T-62 tanks, which are standard fighting armor for Syria but not the top-of-the-line model sold by Moscow. The Iraqis have 500 T-72 tanks, which have more firepower and range.
Ten of the tanks were parked in formation on trailers. Their four-man tank crews and a company of 120 infantrymen, carrying chemical masks and AK-47 assault rifles, snapped to attention.
Two tanks roared off the cargo vessel following a stiff-gaited color guard, and members of the ship’s crew said 145 tanks remained in the belly of the ship. Syria has pledged to send 270 tanks.
The Syrians also brought radar-guided anti-aircraft vehicles.
The tanks, which sailed a week ago from the Mediterranean port of Tartous, are the first Syrian armor to be sent. The armor will reinforce 4,000 ground troops who earlier planted their battle flag alongside fellow Arabs in the Saudi sands.
The original force was made up of elite Special Forces who have fought the Israelis and others in Lebanon.
When asked if he thought Syrian troops would fight Iraqis, Khalid said, ″Let’s hope (they can be used) to prevent war.″
He called their arrival ″a great contribution from a brother country to defend the kingdom.″ About 300,000 troops, mostly Americans, make up the multinational force.
Khalid spoke in Arabic to the Syrian troops, saying that Iraq’s Aug. 2 conquest of Kuwait was wrong and would be punished by God.
″There is One who sees everything,″ Khalid said, according to an intepreter. ″We are all sure his hand will come very soon.″