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Middle east

Syrian rebels forced to rely on homemade weapons

© FRANCE 24

Video by Manolo d'Arthuys

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-10-09

Hampered by a chronic lack of weapons, Syrian rebel fighters are relying on arms fabricated in makeshift workshops, as a FRANCE 24 team discovers on the outskirts of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo.

At a makeshift workshop on the outskirts of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, teenagers are busy sorting through metal scrap while a man, sitting cross-legged in a corner, makes homemade rockets.

“The regime is supported by all the big, rich countries,” says Samir, never once taking his eyes off his delicate task. “All we have is the help of God. Western countries were supposed to send us weapons. Well, here we are. We have to build everything ourselves. Everything here is homemade – 100 percent homemade.”

With the Syrian conflict showing no signs of abating, the asymmetrical use of force and lopsided access to arms by the two sides has seen the rise of dozens of workshops making all sorts of weapons for the rebel fighters.

Although the European Union has lifted its arms embargo and US President Barack Obama has signalled that the US will increase aid to Syria’s rebels, in reality, the deliveries have lagged, largely due to Western fears that any military assistance could wind up in the hands of jihadists.

And so, men like Samir and Yasser, the owner of the workshop, have been hard at work, manufacturing a range of weapons including rockets, grenades, missiles and mortar shells.

‘Be careful with my grenades’

As a group of men pack explosives into a refashioned metal pipe, Yasser closely supervises the process. “That’s a 120-millimetre mortar shell. It’s entirely handmade. [Syrian President] Bashar al Assad’s army uses the same. The difference is, we make our own rather than getting it from Russia or North Korea.”

Another difference is  the risk involved in using and handling these workshop-grade weapons. Accidents are common in Syria’s weapons workshops as workers handle toxic inflammables and some have been known to explode in garages and on the frontlines, killing manufacturers and users.

As a group of rebel fighters handle some rudimentary grenades, Yasser advises caution.

“Be careful with my grenades,” Yasser tells a local commander. “We had a slight problem the other day – about 200 of them exploded unexpectedly.”

His client, an FSA (Free Syrian Army) commander, is clearly rattled. “How did they explode?” he asks.

“They blew up because of the heat,” explains Yasser, before advising the FSA fighter to store the grenades in a refrigerator and take them out just before use.

Nevertheless, Yasser, ever the competent salesman, wants to reassure his client. So the men troop outside the workshop where Yasser launches his grenade – successfully this time – in a corner of the yard.

The occasional accidents have not dampened Yasser’s creative and entrepreneurial skills.

With a smile, he shows the FRANCE 24 team his latest product: a smoke bomb. “This is one for our sniper friends,” he says as fumes engulf the workshop. “When you need to cross a street or a junction, you throw one of these smoke bombs. Then the enemy can’t see you.”

Click here to watch the full report by Manolo d'Arthuys: 'On the frontline with the Free Syrian Army in Aleppo'.

Date created : 2013-10-08

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