While the West deliberates, Saudi Arabia sends anti-aircraft missiles to arm anti-Assad rebels in Syria


Opposition fighters in Syria, preparing for a major onslaught by government forces in their northern strongholds around Aleppo, have been equipped for the first time with shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles, it has emerged.

While Western powers deliberate over whether or not to arm certain rebel groups, Saudi Arabia has sent the weapons, which various rebel groups have long stated is their most needed piece of equipment in fighting forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. The Saudis have also sent anti-tank missiles, as those opposed to Assad’s regime grow ever more concerned about the increasing influence of fighters from the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, who have recently poured across the border in support of the Syrian government.

The fact that rebel groups now have anti-aircraft missiles – which was revealed by the Reuters news agency – means that they can now pose a threat to Assad’s air force for the first time. Military jets have largely been able to fire on rebel positions without the threat of being shot down, something that has played a significant role in the regular army being able to hold positions it might otherwise have lost to opposition fighters.

According to Reuters, the missiles were obtained from suppliers in France and Belgium, and France had paid to ship them to the region. France is one of the countries – along with the UK and the US – which says that it is considering sending lethal arms to opposition groups. One of the factors that has hitherto stood in the way of such transfers is a concern over which groups receive assistance – a number of Jihadist rebels are now operating in Syria and Western governments are eager to avoid arming such groups.

Officially, France says it has not yet decided to arm the rebels but, along with Britain, it persuaded the European Union to drop a weapons embargo from the start of this month.

Some of the weapons - at least 50 Russian-made Konkurs anti-tank missiles - are believed to have already found their way to Aleppo, where heavy fighting has taken place within recent days. Ironically, the Russians have assisted the regular army by exporting weapons to the regime in Damascus.

Reports on Monday suggested that at least 10 government soldiers were killed when a car bomb exploded at the Mazzeh military airbase to the West of Damascus. “There was a first major blast from a car bomb, and then smaller explosions that appeared to be from rockets fired at the area subsequently,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Video: Amateur footage of fighting in Syria

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThe ZX Spectrum is going back on sale - with all your favourite retro games
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk