, , , , , ,

© Ammar Abdullah
Foreign states have supplied Syrian rebels with surface-to-surface Grad rockets in response to the Russian-backed offensive in Aleppo, according to Fares al-Bayoush, rebel commander of the Free Syrian Army.

Rockets for the Grad BM-21 multilaunch systems with ranges of 22km and 40km have recently been supplied in“excellent quantities,” Reuters news agency reported on Wednesday, citing Colonel al-Bayoush. The colonel did not specify exactly how many rockets had been received.

Al-Bayoush claims the rockets are to be used on battlefronts in Aleppo, Hama and the coastal region of Syria, adding that this type of ammunition had not previously been supplied to the rebel forces. He said, however, that the rebels are already using Grad rocket stocks they had previously captured from Syrian Army reserves.

The commander told the news agency there has not yet been any sign of the rebels receiving anti-aircraft missiles they had requested from their foreign partners.

The weapons have been supplied to the Free Syrian Army through a US-backed coordination center in Turkey, the news agency reports.

Al-Bayoush said the newly supplied missiles have already been used by rebels against government positions near Aleppo.

A video posted online on Monday showed Free Syrian Army rebels firing Grad missiles, allegedly targeting government forces near Aleppo. Colonel al-Bayoush confirmed the rockets were from the newly acquired systems, Reuters reports.

Earlier this week, US officials warned that Gulf states could arm the Syrian opposition with anti-aircraft missiles. Speaking on condition of anonymity, one US official told Reuters that Saudi Arabia or Turkey may agree to supply man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS) – considered to be a threat to low-flying aircraft – to opposition groups in Syria.

The Saudis have always thought that the way to get the Russians to back off [in Syria] is what worked in Afghanistan 30 years ago – negating their air power by giving MANPADS to the Mujahideen,” the source was cited as saying.

Russia has been supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad and his government’s forces in the conflict, while the US and its allies in the Gulf states have sided with the so-called moderate opposition. Another unnamed official recently said that Washington has so far kept high numbers of potential weapons supplies out of Syria while waiting for the outcome of the talks regarding the situation with Russia. The talks have so far been unsuccessful as the US has failed to fulfill its part of the agreements, namely to persuade the moderate opposition to separate itself from the Al-Nusra Front terrorist group.

One of the group’s commanders, identified as “Abu Al-Ezz,” claimed earlier this week that US allies were providing Al-Nusra Front with tanks and artillery, “given directly to us.” US State Department spokesman Mark Toner, however, denied the allegations and claimed that anyone pouring more weapons into the conflict would only add more fuel to the fire.

Whatever [Al-Ezz] is saying, no. We would never provide Nusra with any kind of assistance at all.
“[…] There are those – and not the United States – but there are those who back various groups and opposition groups within Syria who also may seek to arm them. And again, what you have as a result is just an escalation in what is already horrific fighting,” Toner said.