Saudis to give anti-aircraft arms to Syria insurgents

Saudis to give anti-aircraft arms to Syria insurgents
Sat Feb 15, 2014 10:02:13

Washington's Arab ally Saudi Arabia has agreed to provide militants in Syria with more sophisticated weaponry, including shoulder-fired missiles that can take down jets, according to Western and Arab diplomats and opposition figures.

The Saudi regime has for the first time offered to furnish Syria insurgents with Chinese man-portable air defense systems, or Manpads, as well as Russian made anti-tank guided missiles, according to an Arab diplomat and several opposition figures with knowledge of the efforts, US-based newspaper Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

The US, for its part, has stepped up financial support, handing over millions of dollars in new aid to pay for salaries of the foreign-backed insurgents, according to field commanders who received some of the money.

The US, however, would not comment on any payments.

The focus of the new military push is to retake the southern suburbs of Damascus in hopes of forcing the Syrian government to accept a Western-backed political resolution to the war by agreeing to a transitional government. However, the government rules out any pre-condition for the talks, saying that President Bashar al-Assad has the right to run for the next presidential election.

"New stuff is arriving imminently," said a Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, with knowledge of the weapons deliveries.

Militant commanders and leaders of the Syrian political opposition said they don't know yet how many of the Manpads and antiaircraft missiles they will get. But they have been told it is a significant amount. The weapons are already waiting in warehouses in Jordan and Turkey.

Earlier in the conflict, militants managed to seize a limited number of Manpads from the Syrian forces. But they quickly ran out of the missiles to arm them, the Western diplomat said.

Militant leaders say they met with US and Saudi intelligence agents, among others, in Jordan on Jan. 30 as the first round of Syrian peace talks in Geneva came to a close. That is when wealthy Persian Gulf Arab States offered the more sophisticated weapons.

The weapons will flow across the border into southern Syria from the warehouses in Jordan and across the northern border from Turkey, the Western diplomat said.

With the militants still deeply divided and their infighting growing, the new aid is aimed squarely at the militants of the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) that the US has persistently favored.


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