Turkey has equipped an array of mainstream Syrian rebels it backs with fresh supplies of weaponry to help them try to repel a major Russian-backed assault, senior opposition officials and rebel sources said on Saturday.
Russia is backing the Assad army’s large aerial and ground assault as it seeks to gain control of the last big stretch of rebel-held territory in the northwest of the country.
Ankara stepped up supplies in recent days after failing to persuade Russia in recent meetings of a joint working group that it should end its escalation to avert a major influx of refugees pouring into Turkey, two senior opposition figures said.
Overnight, a Turkish military convoy arrived at a base in northern Hama near rebel-held Jabal al Zawiya, where Russian and Assad jets have been pounding for weeks, a rebel and a witness said.
The delivery of dozens of armoured vehicles, Grad rocket launchers, anti-tank guided missiles and so-called TOW missiles, helped roll back some Syrian army gains and retake the strategically located town of Kfar Nabouda, one senior opposition figure said.
The TOW missile had been the most potent weapon in the arsenal of rebel groups battling Assad during the conflict. It was extended by Western and Arab foes of Assad until a CIA-led programme of military support to help moderate rebels was suspended in 2017.
A Western intelligence source said Washington had given a “greenlight” for the Turkey-backed mainstream rebels to use the TOW missiles, which had been in storage in the latest campaign.
Turkish officials were not immediately available to comment.
A spokesman for the Turkey-backed National Liberation Front (NLF), Captain Naji Mustafa, did not confirm or deny any new supplies by Turkey, saying rebels had long had a big arsenal of weapons from anti-tank to armoured vehicles “alongside material and logistical support by our Turkish brothers”.