Syrian rebels use captured heavy weapons against Assad's forces
A few tanks and pieces of artillery makes all the difference in a local engagement. But what it means for the rebels fighting outside Damascus, Homs, Hama and other Syrian cities is less clear. If the rebels prove themselves by seizing Aleppo, will it be the catalyst for Western nations to supply them with more heavy weapons to battle Assad's armor?
Syria's rebels shelled an airport near Aleppo on Thursday in what was described as one of the first known instances of insurgents using captured heavy weapons, as opposition activists warned that fighting for the city, the country's main commercial center, would likely intensify.
A Syrian activist said President Bashar al-Assad's army appeared to be preparing for an all-out assault.
"We have seen military reinforcements making their way to Aleppo," said Abou Firas, an activist in Aleppo using a satellite Internet connection because telephone and Internet service from the city was cut off. "We were worried about massacres but now we are issuing a warning about a war of extermination to be launched by the regime."
The news about the government reinforcements could not be independently confirmed because of restrictions on reporters. It came after the battle for Aleppo intensified on Wednesday when United Nations observers there reported that Syrian jets had fired rockets into contested neighborhoods and that rebels had commandeered tanks and other heavy weapons.
The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in Britain, said the rebels had put the captured armor to use, shelling a military airport near Aleppo.
A video forwarded by Mr. Firas, purportedly from a highway between Aleppo and the coast, showed a convoy of nearly a dozen tanks, gas tankers, and several pick-up trucks carrying armed soldiers.
It was not clear when the video was shot, but before earlier ground assaults, the Syrian government has cut off communication in what appears to be an effort to keep rebels -- who have become extremely savvy with YouTube videos and Skype -- from broadcasting the army's attacks.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar -- the rebel's two biggest arms suppliers -- have so far refrained from selling artillery, tanks, APC's and other heavy weapons to the opposition in Syria. But if it looks like the rebels will be able to achieve victory by sending those armaments, that may change. The US and Europe don't want to sell the rebels anything except small arms until western intelligence can sort out who's who among the rebels. But the Saudis, who hate Assad, might let the rebels have weapons that could make a decisive difference it it appears that they would be able to win a quicker victory.