(CBS News) Russia is sending three Navy ships, each carrying about 120 marines, to its naval base in Syria, a Russian defense ministry source has confirmed to CBS News.
However, the Russian Defense Ministry later issued a statement denying the reports.
According to CBS' source, three ships of the Northern fleet will come to Tartus by the end of this week to renew water and food supplies, and will spend two to three days there. Because the port is small, one ship will dock at a time.
The supply base at Tartus is the Russian navy's only refueling facility in the Mediterranean. Approximately 100 personnel staff the base.
Each ship has about 120 Marines on board. The Russian military source would not say whether the Marines were to disembark, or if they would remain in Tartus when the ships head back to Novorossyisk port.
Last Saturday, chief Vice Adm. Viktor Chirkov said Russian servicemen may be evacuated from the Russian naval base in Tartus if it comes under attack. He stressed, however, that an order by the commander in chief of the Russian Armed Forces, President Vladimir Putin, was required to begin an evacuation.
Chirkov also said Russia has no plans to abandon its naval base in Syria. Russian officials have repeated that the navy needs the base, "to provide maintenance and technical support to Russian warships in the Mediterranean, as well as those on an anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean."
Meanwhile, Russia's flagship Aeroflot airlines confirmed Friday that it was stopping all flights to Damascus, starting on Monday.