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WAR REPORT
New page in Syria war as rebel missiles hit aircraft
by Staff Writers
Tourmanin, Syria (AFP) Nov 29, 2012


Syria rebels have new anti-aircraft missile systems: report
Washington (AFP) Nov 29, 2012 - Syrian rebels have recently obtained up to 40 shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles, the Washington Post reported Thursday, citing Western and Middle Eastern intelligence officials.

Some of the missiles were supplied in the past weeks by Qatar, the newspaper reported, citing two unnamed Middle Eastern intelligence officials with knowledge of the matter.

"It should be worrying to everyone," one of the officials said. "When (Syrian President Bashar al-) Assad is finished, terrorists could end up with these, and commercial flights would be at risk."

The US government has opposed arming Syrian rebels with such weapons, fearing that they could eventually land in the hands of terrorists. US intelligence officials declined to comment on the report.

The report comes after the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Tuesday that the Syrian rebels downed an army helicopter with a ground-to-air missile.

"It is the first time that the rebels have shot down a helicopter with a surface-to-air missile," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

The Britain-based Observatory said the missile was part of a consignment newly received by the rebels that had the potential to change the balance of forces in the 20-month conflict.

More than 40,000 people have died since the conflict erupted in March 2011, according to the Observatory.

In less than 24 hours, rebels used surface-to-air missiles to strike down two aircraft in northern Syria, marking a turning point in their war with forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Since the end of July, the Syrian regime has used fighter jets to try to suppress a growing insurgency. The air force has frequently bombarded rebel-held areas across the country, causing high casualties.

But on Wednesday morning, rebels shot down a warplane in the northern province of Aleppo, an AFP reporter said.

The warplane crashed after it was hit by a massive explosion, a tower of thick black smoke rising into the sky, said the reporter, who was just a few kilometres (miles) away.

The previous day insurgents had downed an army helicopter for the first time.

"It's a turning point," said Riad Kahwaji, expert at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA).

"If the Syrian air force starts losing several aircraft every day, that will be a significant turning point because the regime will lose its superiority and will no longer be able to use its main means of delivering strong fire power effectively," Kahwaji told AFP.

The jet fell on an olive grove a kilometre (less than a mile) away from the village of Tourmanin, north of the embattled city of Aleppo.

On Thursday, the Washington Post, citing Western and Middle Eastern sources, reported that the rebels have obtained up to 40 shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles.

Some of the missiles were supplied in the past weeks by Qatar, the newspaper reported.

Wednesday's attack, claimed by a rebel Free Syrian Army group, occurred near the Sheikh Suleiman base, the last garrison in government hands between Syria's second city and the Turkish border.

Dozens of rebels rushed to the scene minutes after the plane was shot down, crying out "Allahu Akbar!" (God is Greatest).

Children rummaged among the smouldering debris, as the stench of kerosene and burning plastic rose. Some teenagers picked up pieces of the plane's broken wings, others played with ammunition.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a watchdog that relies on a network of activists and medics on the ground, also said the jet had been brought down with a missile.

Rebels in Tourmanin said insurgent members of the Ahrar Daret Ezza group, whose name means the Free People of Daret Ezza, a nearby village, were responsible for the strike.

"The plane had the time to drop its bombs, just before it crashed," one witness told AFP.

The crash caused an explosion that was easily heard several kilometres away.

The two pilots in the plane ejected before the crash, with one of them captured immediately after making a parachute landing, witnesses said. The fate of the second pilot is unknown.

The jet was the second government aircraft to have been shot down by rebels using missiles in less than 24 hours.

In the same area on Tuesday, insurgents downed the army helicopter with a ground-to-air missile, in what the Observatory said had the potential to change the balance of military power in the 20-month old conflict.

The gunship had been on a strafing run near Sheikh Suleiman.

Little more than a week ago, the rebels seized tanks, armoured vehicles, artillery, 120-mm mortars and rocket launchers when they took the regime forces' sprawling Base 46, about 12 kilometres (eight miles) west of Aleppo.

Rebel commander General Ahmed Faj told AFP on Friday that the rebels also seized surface-to-air missiles from the base.

"If the rebels have a significant arsenal of surface-to-air missiles, like the well-known Stingers that decimated Russian helicopters and jets in Afghanistan, Assad's army will lose part of its control of the sky," Syria expert Fabrice Balanche told AFP.

"Rebel-held areas will become safe, and insurgents will be able to go on the offensive without fearing the aerial threat ... It's a red line the rebels and their supporters have crossed," he added.

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WAR REPORT
Major Syria army offensive along Damascus airport road: NGO
Beirut (AFP) Nov 29, 2012
Syrian troops Thursday evening launched a major offensive in southeastern Damascus along the airport road, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, after earlier reporting the route had been closed. The army attacked rebel strongholds in a string of towns along the highway and near the airport, Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP by phone. State media also reported operation ... read more


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