Syria: Rebels SAM-up; US increases aid; France recognises opposition; border villages taken


 

There was encouraging news for the Syrian rebels today, with success on the ground and increasing international support.

Syrian-rebel-with-Surface-to-Air-missileThe rebels’ capacity to take on the might of the Assad regime has been enhanced by the capturing of shoulder-mounted Surface-to-Air missiles.

The Guardian reports:

Syrian rebels may have more powerful shoulder-mounted surface-to-air missiles than previously thought, if photographs posted by Brown Moses (Eliot Higgins) on his blog are correct.

His photos show a man with what he identifies as an SA-16 (“reportedly captured by Ansar al-Islam from an air defence in East Ghouta, near Damascus”) and an SA-24 (“apparently looted from Babla Base air defence base by Ansar al-Islam”) – “the latest generation of Russian surface to air missiles”.

With Federation of American Scientists missile proliferation analyst Matt Schroeder telling CJ Chilvers of the NYT’s “At War” blog:

“As far as I know, this is the first SA-24 manpads [man-portable air-defence systems] ever photographed outside of state control.”

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, has announced an extra $30 million in aid, which will help get food to those suffering inside Syria and to refugees in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.

She said:

“We agreed today that the formation of the new Syrian opposition coalition is an important step forward and will help the international community better target our assistance where it is needed most…

“As the Syrian opposition takes these steps and demonstrates its effectiveness in advancing the cause of a unified, democratic, pluralistic Syria, we will be prepared to work with them to deliver assistance to the Syrian people.”

There was further good news as France today became the first European country to recognise Syria’s new opposition, President Francois Hollande saying:

I announce today that France recognises the Syrian national coalition as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people and as future government of a democratic Syria making it possible to bring an end to Bashar al-Assad’s regime.”

Reuters reports:

The French announcement came just hours after Syria’s newly installed opposition leader urged European states to back the opposition so it could buy weapons.

Paris, one of Assad’s harshest critics, had previously ruled out arming rebel forces, concerned that weapons could get into the hands of radical Islamists.

Speaking to Reuters as Arab and European ministers met to discuss Syria at the Arab League in Cairo, Mouaz Alkhatib, the Damascus preacher elected unopposed on Sunday to lead the new group, had asked for diplomatic backing:

“I request European states to grant political recognition to the coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and to give it financial support… When we get political recognition, this will allow the coalition to act as a government and hence acquire weapons and this will solve our problems.”

And on the ground in Syria, Israel this afternoon said “almost all” the Syrian villages bordering the Golan Heights had fallen into rebel hands.

Defence minister Ehud Barak said:

“Almost all of the villages, from the foot of this ridge to the very top, are already in the hands of the Syrian rebels.”

The Syrian army was displaying “ever-diminishing efficiency”, added Barak, saying Israel will remain “vigilant and alert”.

With the Red Crescent yesterday revealing at least 2.5 million people have been displaced within Syria – double previous estimates and in addition to the more than 400,000 Syrians who have fled to neighbouring countries – the need for greater support for the opposition to topple Assad (in the absence of Western intervention) is clear.

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