Author Topic: New Saudi-supplied missiles boost rebels in south Syria  (Read 338 times)

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New Saudi-supplied missiles boost rebels in south Syria
« on: August 15, 2013, 02:58:12 PM »

AMMAN (Reuters) - Rebels in southern Syria have fired newly acquired anti-tank guided missiles supplied by Saudi Arabia in a significant boost to their battle against President Bashar al-Assad, rebel, intelligence and diplomatic sources say.

Several Russian-designed Konkurs anti-tank weapons were used in a rebel attack this week on an army position in Deraa city near the Jordanian border, said a source in a rebel brigade linked to the Western-backed Supreme Military Council.

Missiles were also fired around Laja, a rebel stronghold in the rugged region stretching north to the outskirts of Damascus, according to Faiq al Aboud, a member of the Al-Mutasem Bi'Allah brigade whose account was corroborated by other fighters.

The recent flow of Saudi-backed arms reflects concerns in Riyadh at the slow pace of progress by rebels in the south and concern that al Qaeda-linked groups could exploit the stalemate to expand their presence, said a Western diplomatic source.

Rebels have faced a series of setbacks in central Syria as Assad's troops retook towns and city districts with support from Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters.

The army has also consolidated its presence in towns across southern Syria - which has always had strong military presence because of its proximity to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights - after rebels made significant gains in the region.

Rebels and military experts say the Konkurs, with a range of four km (2.5 miles), offers a strategic edge over Assad's better equipped forces which rely on hundreds of Russian T-72 tanks and older models to launch ground attacks and control cities.

Other experts say rebel fortunes could be tied to how many more portable missile systems the rebels can get in the coming months, such as the Konkurs, Kornet anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) and Red Arrow 8 missiles.

"If the weapons arrive in the right quantities they will affect the situation on the ground," said retired Jordanian general Fayez al Dwiri.

The Saudi-financed missile shipments arrived in the last few weeks through Jordan after months of quiet Saudi pressure to prod Amman to open a supply route.

Jordanian officials privately say they are caught between appeasing the Saudis and the danger of reprisals by Assad, who earlier this year warned Amman it "would be playing with fire" if it supported rebels.


The recently arrived Saudi financed anti-tank missiles, while limited in number, have already given a psychological boost to rebels operating in the south, according to several rebel and security sources familiar with the shipments.

Rebels in Deraa, the cradle of the 2011 uprising against Assad, have long complained that unlike their comrades in the north, they have been choked of significant arms, with both the West and Jordan wary of arming insurgents so close to Israel.

Although video footage taken earlier this year suggested the southern rebels had access to anti-tank weapons from the former Yugoslavia - likely supplied from abroad - much of their stockpile of advanced weaponry has come from looted army bases.

But experts say there are signs that recent deliveries may be the start of a major supply line to southern Syria led by Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally and foremost of several regional Sunni Muslim powers backing the mainly Sunni rebels against Assad, whose Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.

Middle Eastern security, rebel and diplomatic sources cite the hands-on role of Prince Salman bin Sultan, a nephew of Saudi King Abdullah and senior security official. Salman heads an operations room in Amman with allies, regularly meeting and instructing top Syrian operatives.

Even before the first shipment of Konkurs, Salman's pressure on Amman secured the supply of rocket

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