First Published: 2012-11-29

 

Rebels’ surface-to-air missiles open new page in Syria war

 

Experts stress Assad regime will lose its strong aerial fire power if rebels down several aircrafts every day.

 

Middle East Online

By Herve Bar - TOURMANIN, Syria

Two military aircraft downed in less than 24 hours

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 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 said.

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.

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, confirmed that the jet had been brought down with a missile.

While some witnesses gave a similar version, others said rebels used an anti-aircraft gun to strike the jet.

It appeared more likely that the rebels used a missile as the plane had been flying at a high altitude.

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 said.

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 said 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 said.

"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," Balanche added.

Syria's revolt is supported by Turkey, several Gulf states and the West, while Russia, China and Iran offer assistance to Assad's regime.

"Now the Russians will certainly give the Syrians more sophisticated equipment," said Balanche.

 

Pentagon skeptical about Russia's Syria pullout claims

Senior Saudi prince blasts Trump's "opportunistic" Jerusalem move

Kuwait ruler’s son named defence minister

EU accused of complicity in Libya migrant rights violations

Saudi Arabia lifts decades-long ban on cinemas

Russia begins partial withdrawal from Syria

Russia weary of returning IS jihadists before World Cup, election

6.2-magnitude earthquake strikes Iran

EU says Syria war ‘ongoing’ despite Russia pullout

Istanbul nightclub gunman refuses to testify

Integrating Syrians in Turkey carries implications

US opinion views Muslims and Arabs more favourably but political affiliation makes a difference

Iranian conservative protesters say Trump hastening end of Israel

Jordan referred to UN for failing to arrest Sudanese president

Turkey demands life for journalists in coup bid trial

Netanyahu expects EU to follow suit on Jerusalem

Putin orders withdrawal of ‘significant’ amount of troops from Syria

Putin to meet with Sisi in Cairo

GCC at a critical juncture

Houthi rebels tighten grip on Sanaa after Saleh’s assassination

Israel’s Syrian air strikes risk renewing escalation as Iran expands presence in Golan

Qatar to acquire 24 Typhoon fighters from UK

Bahraini civil society group criticised after Israel visit

Israel PM faces renewed pressure in Europe

Palestinian stabs Israeli guard in ‘terrorist’ attack

UAE’s Sheikh Mohammed says US Jerusalem decision could help terrorists

Fateh encourages more protests, refuses to meet Pence

Chinese electric carmaker to open Morocco factory

Iraqi victory over IS remains fragile

Morocco’s renewed ties with South Africa likely to consolidate support for Western Sahara stance

Lebanese security forces fire tear gas at protestors

Syria’s justice system: ‘working without a written law'

Egypt revives controversial desert capital project

Iran sentences fugitive ex-bank chief to jail

Iraq announces 'end of the war against Daesh'

Israeli air strike kills 2 in Gaza

UK foreign minister in Iran to push for Briton's release

Turkey's Erdogan seeks to lead Muslim response on Jerusalem

Iraqi Christians celebrate in town retaken from IS

Isolated US defiant at UN Security Council

Putin to visit Turkey for talks on Jerusalem, Syria

Protests sweep Muslim world over Jerusalem

US urges Saudi to show caution in regional disputes

Thousands march in Istanbul to protest US Jerusalem move

Bahrain Shiite leader undergoes surgery