Tag Archives: Homs

Have Assad’s forces used Chemical Weapons on Homs?

Reports have appeared on news websites according to those, forces loyal to President Assad have attacked Syrian rebels in the city of Homs with what appears to be a gas type chemical weapon.

Quoting Al-Jazeera, Haaretz has reported that opposition leaders said that government jets dropped bombs containing a poisonous gas onto Homs on Dec. 23.

It is not known what chemical agent was used. Some think it’s something similar to Sarin although according to a doctor who treated some of the victims the agent QNB or 3-quinuclidinyl benzilate for its full name (also known by NATO as BZ) was used possibly mixed in with another agent to mask its identity.

QNB is an odorless incapacitating agent which is usually delivered as a aerosol based solid and this would fit in with some of the symptoms the victims suffered.

Around 6 or 7 people were killed outright in the attack, 4 were left paralyzed, 4 where left blind and dozens had symptoms including agitation, consciousness impairment, pinpoint pupils, nausea and  breathing difficulties.

Many of the victims said that there was a bad odor along with the gas and as QNB is odorless this would suggest that the QNB is mixed with something else quite possibly a solvent to aid ingestion or per-cutaneous adsorption (through the skin).

[Read also: Assad regime has turned combat planes into WMD-armed drones]

An article ran on the Independent website states that a defecting Syrian army General Abdul-Aziz Jassim al-Shallal confirmed that the attack was indeed a chemical weapons attack, although he did not give any further details.

However Wired’s Dangeroom (Link contains graphic video) quotes an unnamed US official as saying that “It just doesn’t jibe with chemical weapons,” after viewing the videos supplied by the rebels, assuming Sarin had been used the casualty numbers would have been far higher and felt that the videos didn’t really conclusively state that chemical weapons had been used at least Sarin and we could have been shown anything not necessarily victims of a chemical weapons attack.

Both sides of the conflict have been sending out propaganda to meet their own needs and this could be another example of this fake claims.

Until this has been independently verified its hard to say what exactly has happened.

Syria reportedly tested chemical weapons using tanks and helicopters earlier this year.

Richard Clements for TheAviationist.com

A Su-22 drops a freefall bomb next to a lucky cameraman in Homs

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Iranian fighter jet seemingly flying over Homs: is Tehran actively taking part to the air war in Syria?

Although the majority of footage, photo appearing on Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and so on, some of the images coming from Syria proved to be fake, as those allegedly showing a Syrian Arab Air Force plane hit by surface to air missiles or the L-39 crashing into the ground after being hit by Free Syrian Army’s anti-aircraft fire.

That said, take the following with grain of salt.

Brought to my attention by Bjørn Holst Jespersen the following image was uploaded on the Syrian Revolution Memory Project Flickr photostream. The photograph, whose EXIF can be found here, is the last of a set reportedly describing a day spent by Abu Jafaar “the citizen journalist” with the Al-Farouk Brigade of the FSA.

It was taken on Aug. 31 (at least, according to the EXIF), even if the caption says it was shot on Aug. 6 (noteworthy, all pictures in the set have the same caption: “Homs, Syria August 6, 2012″).

Anyway, the photograph clearly shows an F-5 Tiger fighter jet. Among the various operators of this kind of aircraft, Iran and Turkey are the closer ones.

Provided that the image was really taken in Syria, over Homs or elsewhere in the country, and considered that Tehran has recently admitted it is helping Assad against the rebels (recent imagery even disclosed the presence of Iran Air and Mahan Air planes at Damascus airport) there are some chances that the plane depicted in the photograph is really an Iranian F-5.

Maybe it’s a bit far fetched but this photo could prove Iran is a bit more actively than thought taking part to the air war over Syria. Even if it could be risky and surely destined to be unveiled quite soon by drones and intelligence gathering platforms spying on Assadists movements.

Less likely, the image could have been taken near the border with Turkey, thus showing a TuAF NF-5…

New videos show Syrian gunship helicopters dropping bombs on Homs and Damascus

The Syrian Arab Air Force gunships, “only” used to fire rockets against the Free Syrian Army (FSyA) so far, have started to drop bombs on Homs and Damascus.

The following video is the last of series recently uploaded to Youtube, showing a Syrian Mil Mi-25 releasing what seems to be a Soviet FAB-250 general purpose bomb on Talbiseh, a small city in northwestern Syria, just 10 km Homs.

Along with drones, choppers seem to be the preferred tool used by Sirya against the FSyA. That’s why the Syrian revolution has put instructions on how to shoot down a regime helicopter on-line.

Recently, footage officially released by the regime showed Mig-21s, Mig-23s and also, Mig-29s and Su-24s firing rockets and dropping bombs, along with Mi-25s, Mi-17s and Gazelle operating at low altitude and firing at mock targets during what looked like a large exercise in the desert.

Most probably to prevent the enforcement of a No Fly Zone (as well as defections by experienced pilots), the only combat planes to be spotted in the Syrian sky over disputed towns, since the beginning of the uprising last year, have been some Mig-21 fighter jets.

An entire Syrian Air Defense Battalion defected, (possibly) bringing some new anti-aircraft weapons in rebel hands.

On Jun.10, several reports coming from Syria gave the news that an entire Syrian Air Defense Battalion, the 743th based at Al Gantoo, near Talbiseh, had defected.

Even if the Battalion consists of about 140 soldiers, just a few of them were at the site located to the north of the city of Homs when talks with the Free Syrian Army started, and only 10 agreed to join the FSA.

The site is believed to host SA-6 SAMs, the videos uploaded on Youtube by the opposition forces only show SA-2 Guideline batteries.

However, the Assad forces attacked the site and destroyed all the equipment  in order to prevent the rebels from using the ammunition and weapon systems found there.

Even if the Syrian helicopters dispatched to get rid of anything that could be used by the FSA, might have destroyed the mobile SAM stations, some anti-aircraft weapons were possibly captured by the rebels: some of them, including a ZSU-23-4 Shilka, could soon be used against the regime’s drones (reportedly used to monitor UN observers) and Mil Mi-8/17 Hip gunships that have ruled the Syrian sky so far.

Syria update: the attack on Hama

Here below you can find the latest update from Syria based on the details that Bjørn Holst Jespersen, a contributor of The Aviationist, has continued to post on his blog.

But, first of all, let’s have a look at a map of Syria, in order to understand why some cities are more important than others for the outcome of the uprising.

M-5 Damascus – Aleppo

In the map below Bjorn has highlighted the special geographical look of the present conflict in Syria. As can be seen, the two largest cities – Damascus and Aleppo – are placed relatively far apart, and keeping those two cities connected is a central part of maintaining control of the country. A scenario where Aleppo is cut off from Damascus would significantly increase the chance/risk of the regime loosing control of the city. And that would most probably seal their fate.

The M5 highway/motorway (red line on the map below) is quite illustrative of this specific phenomenon, and the importance of controlling this route is easily understood.
What also becomes clear from studying the map is that the cities Hama, Homs and Rastan are placed in key positions. Loosing control of those cities will to a large degree isolate Damascus from Aleppo, which must be considered extra critical to the regime.

Screen shot from Google Maps with markings by me. Red line is the M5 highway linking Damascus to Aleppo

Aleppo is equal to Damascus in size.Moreover, if the metropolitan areas of Homs and Hama are combined with the city of Rastan (61,000) the population reaches about 1.28 million. Given the strength of opposition in these cities it’s a quite considerable number to have placed in this strategic area.

2S1, 122 mm self-propelled artillery

Stitched together frames from a video on YouTube channel. Uploaded May 24. 2012. *note: there are five artillery pieces, but one is hardly visible behind the tent from this angle. Video and help identifying the weapon via @markito0171.

On May 24. a video came out. It is said to show an artillery position firing at Hama and, according to Bjørn it shows five 2S1 Gvozdika. These are self-propelled 122 mm howitzers and at the 1:55 min video the position fires six times.

According to Wikipedia, Syria operates about 400 of these, and according to images released on Feb. 10. 2012 by U.S. Department of State, such weapons are known to have been deployed by the Syrian regime, though at that time in an other position.

Frame from video on YouTube channel. The ID on the 2S1s in this video is certain. Uploaded May 26, 2012.

From another video uploaded on May 26. there is more evidence of this weapon being used by the regime.

The image above is a frame from that video showing a number of 2S1s are being moved on trailers. The date of this recording is unknown and according to the title of the video (and Google translate) this movement has to do with Homs refinery. But still this – besides substantiating some weapons id – gives an idea of what kind of military force is being deployed against the opposition.

In the image below, to the left is a 2S1, and to the right – for comparison – Bjørn placed a photo of the larger calibre 2S3 Akatsiya. The 2S3 is mounted with a 152.4 mm howitzer and is considerably heavier than the 2S1 (16 vs. 28 ton). His main basis for the identification is that the light makes it possible to see that the hull-sides of some of the pieces have an unbroken vertical wall above the tracks.

This matches the 2S1 better. Also only the 2S1 have two hatches on top of the turret. The best id-view will be to freeze a frame at about 1:26 min. in the video from the firing position.

Left a Polish 2S1 seen from an angle that resembles that of the vehicles in the video. Image from Wikipedia. Right: for comparison, a 2S3 Akatciya. Source: Dishmodels.ru

BMP-1, ZPU-4 and troops

On May 27. the Syrian regime closed in on the city (Hama), especially the North Eastern neighbourhood, Al-Arbaeen, which was surrounded from about 5 am until the evening. Several other neighbourhoods were targeted too and according to activists, snipers were positioned on roof-tops preventing the population from moving – and from helping those wounded by shelling.

According to those same sources, on May 28. the assault was still ongoing, and a number of videos are coming out showing some of the deployments of regime forces.

The videos together show the high level of deployment of military in the city (in contrast with the Annan six point plan).

Left: a frame from a video showing what Bjørn has IDed as a BMP-1. Right: a frame from video showing more BMP-1s. Both videos uploaded to Youtube channel on May 28, 2012. Videos via @markito0171.

The BMP-1s, that can be seen above, in the frame to the left, have been extensively used by the regime throughout this conflict, and before 2011 the Syrian Army was believed to have around 2,000 of these. They are armed with a 73 mm 2A28 Grom low pressure smooth-bore gun that fires rocket assisted grenades.

Images show fragments of two different models of these grenades. The most common model together with a BMP-1 can be seen here, and the other here.

The frame to the right, has two more BMP-1s passing through. They both seems to have an unusual arrangement above the rear hatches. It might be meant to give the rear-end the same ski-tip profile as the front. It would make some sense according to Bjørn.

In the last part of the video one of the BMPs also gives a fine demonstration of the turret capabilities.

In the image below, to the left, is a truck mounted ZPU-4. It’s a four barrel 14.5 mm heavy machine gun originally intended for anti aircraft use, and this video corroborate reports from @HamaEcho that these weapons had been seen by this source for the first time only a few days ago.

However back on Apr. 11 here at The Aviationist we had a post showing a video of opposition forces firing at a regime helicopter. The weapon used is not visible but an expert makes a very convincing case identifying it as the ZPU-4.

The frame to the right gives an impression of what kind of deployment of troops this also involves.

Left: a frame from a video showing a ZPU-4 mounted on a truck. Right: a frame from video showing troops. Videos uploaded on May  27. & 28. 2012. to Youtube channel. videos via @markito0171.

A group of UN observers is currently stationed in Hama, but there are no reports of what they might have done during these attacks.Helicopters

Although there have been claims of helicopters shot down by the Free Syrian Army, at the time of writing the news has not been confirmed. There is a footage allegedly showing a Mi-8 helicopter being hit by anti-aircraft fire, but its quality is extremely low.

Even if they don’t show helicopters being hit and downed by the FSA, the following videos, respectively filmed on May 23 and Jun. 2, seem to document the use of Mil Mi-8 choppers to attack rebel positions from medium-low level.