Syria: Rebels hail shooting down of two government aircraft
SYRIAN rebels have shot down two military aircraft in two days using surface-to-air missiles in a major battlefield advance for those fighting president Bashar al-Assad’s forces – the acquisition of heat-seeking missiles that they are capable of using.
In one video released late on Tuesday, a utility helicopter that appears to be a Russian-built Mi-17 can be seen banking in a slow left turn and then being hit near its engine by a fast-moving projectile rising from below.
Another video shows what appears to be the same helicopter moments after the strike: the crippled aircraft manages a partly controlled descent in flames, as a voice off-camera shouts, “sarook” – “rocket” – before it strikes the ground and explodes.
A second video, released yesterday, shows the wreckage of what the rebels said was MiG-23 fighter-bomber, struck by another missile over Daret Ezza, in the province of Aleppo.
Another amateur video distributed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights showed a group carrying a uniformed man, identified as the pilot.
“This is the pilot that attacked the houses of civilians,” said a voice off camera.
“We want him alive,” a man can be heard saying in the video.
In recent months, rebels have mainly used machine-guns to shoot down several Syrian air force helicopters and fixed-wing attack jets.
Rebels hailed the latest hits as the culmination of their long pursuit of effective anti-aircraft weapons, though it was not clear if the downing was an isolated tactical success or heralded a new phase in the war that would present a meaningful challenge to the Syrian government’s air supremacy.
Debate has raged since the start of the insurgency over whether Western and Arab nations should provide Syria’s rebels with portable anti-aircraft missiles, often called Manpads. Some fear that such weapons could be smuggled away from the conflict and later used by terrorists against civilian airliners.
Manpads funnelled by the United States to Pakistan helped Afghan rebels turn the tide against the Soviet Union in the Afghan war of 1980s.
The Syrian rebels have slowly been acquiring them nonetheless, including from military stock captured in battle, and according to the unconfirmed accounts of some rebel commanders, via smuggling from outside.
Tuesday’s helicopter attack occurred not far from a large military base outside Aleppo, which rebels overran last week. It comes after a string of rebel raids on air bases, which have then been ransacked for weapons. In at least one video, crates of captured shoulder launched missiles have been shown.
Meanwhile, two car bombs yesterday killed at least 34 people in a district of Damascus loyal to Mr Assad in the deadliest attack on the Syrian capital in months. The explosions struck the eastern neighbourhood of Jaramana, home to many of Syria’s Druze minority as well as Christians who have fled violence elsewhere.
After the first explosion, people rushed to help the injured, then the second bomb went off, said Ismail Zlaiaa, 54, who lives in the neighbourhood. This is a tactic used by groups in Iraq to maximise civilian casualties, and has also been seen in Pakistan.
“It is an area packed with rush-hour passengers,” he said. “God will not forgive the criminal perpetrators.”
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