Gulf states 'may send rocket launchers' to Syrian rebels

Gulf states 'may send rocket launchers' to Syrian rebels
Failing peace talks may lead to Gulf Arab nations or Turkey supplying rebel factions with anti-aircraft missiles, a US official has warned.
3 min read
27 September, 2016
Frustrations with Washington could see rebels armed by Gulf states, a US official warns
Syrian rebels may receive even more advanced weaponry from Gulf states in the wake of the ceasefire collapse and the surge in regime and Russian airstrikes, US officials have warned.

Armed opposition factions have long desired anti-aircraft missile launchers - and frustration with failed diplomacy could be the trigger for Turkey or Gulf nations to supply them.

"The Saudis have always thought that the way to get the Russians to back off is what worked in Afghanistan 30 years ago - negating their air power by giving MANPADS [man portable air-defence systems] to the mujahideen," a Pentagon source told Reuters.

"So far, we've been able to convince them that the risks of that are much higher today because we're not dealing with a Soviet Union in retreat, but a Russian leader who's bent on rebuilding Russian power and less likely to flinch," the official said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.


Opposition fighters in Syria have, over the past five years of war, been loosely divided by Washington and US allies into "moderate" and "extremist" groups based on a combination of factors, including religiosity, funding sources and links to other armed groups such as al-Qaeda.

While "extremist" factions have been shunned by the West, "moderate" groups have often received arms - including anti-tank weaponry, machine guns and ammunition - from supporters in Gulf nations, and frequently in coordination with the United States

Washington says it has tried to keep anti-aircraft missiles out of the hands of Syrian rebels, but as the regime continues its relentless bombing campaign, the Pentagon's Gulf allies may no longer follow its lead. 

Asked if the US was would do anything beyond negotiations to put an end to the violence, State Department spokesman Mark Toner stressed that Washington does not want to see anyone pouring more weapons into the conflict.

"What you would have as a result is just an escalation in what is already horrific fighting," Toner told Reuters.

"Things could go from bad to much worse," he added.


On Monday, food and medical supplies were running out in rebel-held eastern Aleppo, with victims crowding into barely functioning hospitals following a fresh wave of airstrikes.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said at least 12 people, including three children, were killed in Monday's raids.

Since the truce fell apart last week, a total of 248 people have been killed in Aleppo city and the wider province by
Watch: UN convoy attacked

Russian and government bombardment, the Observatory said, though casualty numbers vary.

During an emergency session of the UN Security Council, US Ambassador Samantha Power accused Russia of "barbarism", while the British and French envoys went even further.

"War crimes are being committed here in Aleppo," Francois Delattre of France said, while Britain's envoy spoke of bombs unleashing a "new hell" on Syrians.

"It is difficult to deny that Russia is partnering with the Syrian regime to carry out war crimes," said Matthew Rycroft.


Kremlin Dmitry Peskov hit back, denouncing "the overall unacceptable tone and rhetoric".

Despite the diplomatic exchange, the violence showed no signs of abating on the ground.

"What's going on now in Syria is tragic, disgraceful, preventable," US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said.

"The only way to end the Syrian civil war and give the Syrian people the respite from this savagery that they so deserve is a political resolution."

On Monday Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem claimed the short-lived ceasefire was still viable, even as his government's Russian-backed forces continued to bombard Aleppo.

The US Secretary of State John Kerry was quick to dismiss Moallem's remarks, saying: "The Assad regime's statements are almost meaningless at this point in time."


Airstrikes in Aleppo on Monday [Anadolu]