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.

 

Essebsi wins Tunisia election to become first freely elected President

U-turn: Qatar pledges 'full support' to Sisi's Egypt

Syria civil war has cost tiny neighbour Lebanon more than $ 20 billion

Erdogan slams birth control as ‘treason’ against Turkey ambitions

Arts Canteen London presents Attab Haddad: Iraqi oud with a western twist

Israel charges Palestinians for ‘inciting violence on Facebook’

Hollande urges ‘utmost vigilance’ after brutal weekend attacks in France

Turkey graft scandal: Four ex-ministers await decision on their fate

Berlin seeks to set up trauma centre for IS rape victims

Syria claims downing of Israeli reconnaissance drone

Rafah border crossing reopens for two days

Israel parliament approves funding for settler tourism plan

Five jihadists killed in clashes with Egypt police

Essebsi claims victory in Tunisia presidential poll

Coalition targets ‘Islamic State’ in areas north of Aleppo

Libya Islamist-backed government urges foreigners to return to Tripoli

Palestinians enter Egypt as Rafah crossing reopens for two days

Davutoglu accuses EU of 'dirty campaign' against Turkey

Raid on terrorists accidentally kills Saudi youth in Awamiya town

Egypt sentences ‘spy for Israel’ to ten years in prison

Jordan ends eight-year moratorium on death penalty

Egypt President removes powerful spy chief

Barzani in Mount Sinjar after end of jihadist siege

Tunisia votes for president in final leg of democratic transition

Turkey acquits sociologist over 1998 explosion

EU foreign affairs head to visit Iraq

Turkey court remands Samanyolu TV chief in custody

IS threatens to kill Lebanese soldiers held hostage

Obama concerned about Egypt mass trials

Tough times for oil-rich GCC

Tumbling oil prices cut budgets of Mideast arms exporters

Iraq’s peshmerga ‘break’ Mount Sinjar siege

Turkish media chiefs charged with terrorism

Iraq may delay payment of Kuwait war reparations

Over $900 million needed to help Syria children

Saudi rules out oil output reduction

Dutch populist lawmaker to be tried for 'fewer Moroccans' vow

Outrage in Algeria over Islamist call for Algerian author's death

Iraq Kurds, coalition launch offensive to retake Sinjar

Three years to end Israeli occupation in UN resolution

Yemen’s Huthis seize Sanaa state offices

Somalia appoints new PM after bitter infighting

Blow to Israel: EU court removes Hamas from terror blacklist

Sharp rise in Syria passport applications

Turkey FM visit to Iran highlights Syria divide