US denies lifting MANPADS ban to Syrian rebels

US denies lifting MANPADS ban to Syrian rebels
Russia has claimed that an easing of arms restrictions on Syrian rebel groups by the US directly threatens its airmen engaged in bombing raids in the country.
2 min read
28 December, 2016
Some MANPADS have found their way into Syria [AFP]
Syrian rebels will not be provided with US-made anti-aircraft missiles, Washington has said, following Russian claims that US arms restrictions to opposition groups had been loosened.

State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said that a block on MANPADS - shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles - was still in place, and that Russia's suggestion that such weapons are being provided to Syrian rebels is incorrect.

"Our position on MANPADS has not changed. We have a very deep concern about that kind of weaponry getting into Syria," said Toner, according to Reuters.

It follow a bill signed by President Barack Obama late last week, which prevented the state department allocating funds for anti-aircraft missiles to Syrian rebels until the secretaries of state and defence first presented a report to a congressional committee.

This would have to state intelligence findings on the armed groups being provided with the weapons.

Washington says that Russia has misinterpreted the bill as giving the state department a green light to provide MANPADS to Syrian rebel groups.

"Washington has placed its bets on supplying military aid to anti-government forces who don't differ than much from bloodthirsty head choppers. Now, the possibility of supplying them with weapons, including mobile anti-aircraft complexes, has been written into this new bill," said Russia's foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said in a statement.

"In the administration of B. Obama they must understand that any weapons handed over will quickly end up in the hands of jihadists."

She claimed that these missiles could be used against Russian planes, which have been conducting raids on Syrian rebel areas since September 2015.

"We therefore view the step as a hostile act," she continued.

Some Syrian rebel groups have been provided with US-made weapons, such as anti-tank missiles.

Opposition groups asked for anti-aircraft missiles to be supplied to the rebels, saying they could be a game changer in the conflict and protect Syrian towns and cities from regime and Russian war planes.

Around 400,000 people have died in Syria's war, the vast majority at the hands of Bashar al-Assad's regime.