Saudis will provide Syrian rebels with antiaircraft missiles

Western and Arab diplomats told the WSJ that Arab allies had agreed to provide rebels there with more sophisticated weaponry, including shoulder-fired missiles.

Saudis will provide Syrian rebels with antiaircraft missiles

World Bulletin / News Desk

Syria opposition allies have agreed to provide rebels with more sophisticated weaponry, including shoulder-fired missiles that can take down jets, the Washington Post reported.

Saudi Arabia has offered to give the opposition Chinese man-portable air defense systems for the first time, otherwise knwon as Manpads, and antitank guided missiles from Russia, according to an Arab diplomat and several opposition figures with knowledge of the efforts.

Saudi officials couldn't be reached to comment.

The U.S. for its part has stepped up financial support, handing over millions of dollars in new aid to pay fighters' salaries, said rebel commanders who received some of the money.

The U.S. wouldn't comment on any payments.

The focus of the new rebel military push is to retake the southern suburbs of Damascus in hopes of forcing the regime to accept a political resolution to the war by agreeing to a transitional government without President Bashar al-Assad.

But if the Manpads are supplied in the quantities needed, rebels said it could tip the balance in the stalemated war in favor of the opposition. The antiaircraft and Russian Konkurs antitank weapons would help them chip away at the regime's two big advantages on the battlefield—air power and heavy armor.

"New stuff is arriving imminently," said a Western diplomat with knowledge of the weapons deliveries.

Rebel commanders and leaders of the Syrian political opposition said they don't know yet how many of the Manpads and antiaircraft missiles they will get.

But they have been told it is a significant amount.

Earlier in the conflict, rebels managed to seize a limited number of Manpads from regime forces. But they quickly ran out of the missiles to arm them, the Western diplomat said.

Rebel leaders say they met with U.S. and Saudi intelligence agents, among others, in Jordan on Jan. 30 as the first round of Syrian peace talks in Geneva came to a close. That is when wealthy Gulf States offered the more sophisticated weapons.

The weapons will flow across the border into southern Syria from the warehouses in Jordan and across the northern border from Turkey, the Western diplomat said.

Rebel leaders said the shipments to southern Syria are expected to be more substantial because opposition fighters are more unified in that area and there is a lower risk the weapons will fall into the hands of al Qaeda-inspired groups—a big concern for the U.S.

With the rebels still deeply divided and infighting growing, the new aid is aimed squarely at the more moderate and secular rebels of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) that the U.S. has always favored.

The plan coincides with the reorganization of rebel forces in the south, where 10,000 fighters have formed the Southern Front. The new front aims to break the government's siege of the southern suburbs of Damascus.

"The Saudis and Emiratis at the same meeting said that their priority is to lift the siege on the entire southern area of Damascus," said an aide to a rebel leader who attended the meeting in Amman on Jan 30.

Once we reach this stage, it will become political pressure and Assad will have to listen to the international demands," the aide said.

Rebels said the U.S. spent $3 million on salaries of fighters in the Southern Front, delivering the payments in cash over two meetings in Jordan—one on Jan. 30 and the other late last year.

Last Mod: 15 Şubat 2014, 12:27
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