Latest from Syria: mortars, anti-aircraft vehicles and (maybe) chemical weapons

After publishing the Special feature: all the weapons used by the Syrian regime on Homs, Bjørn Holst Jespersen, a contributor of The Aviationist, has continued to analyse the footage of the Syrian uprising made available on Youtube, Social Networks and blogs to update the article he originally posted on his blog while I’ve posted several articles about the made-in-Iran drones, helicopters, anti-aircraft systems used by the loyalist forces or the Free Syrian Army.

Click here to see all the posts about the Syrian uprising published on The Aviationist.

Unidentified artillery or tank shell casing:

The tweet below is from a Syrian activist, and contains links to images of the destruction to Homs:

@ArabSpringFF: Take a tour of destroyed Homs. Inshaat photo set 1 & photo set 2. The least damaged area of Baba Amr photo set 3.

Image from arabspringff’s flickr photostream.

This image is the last in the first set of photos. Given that it seems to have been found inside the city, Bjørn’s guess is that it could be the casing from a tank round, but can anyone read what is written on it?

Mortars, 120 mm and 160 mm

This part is an analysis of the content of a video whose link was tweeted on Apr. 14.

@tweets4peace: 14/04/2012: Homs: The artillery used to shell #Homs and positioning of regime forces. Alghabeh – Alwaar neighbourhood.

Stitched frames from video on 434343aaa’s YouTube channel

In the image above, a number of frames from the video were stitched. The resulting image shows what looks like an artillery position with four mortars: two 120 mm and two larger mortars that Bjørn believes to be 160 mm models. During the video the 120 mm mortar to the far left is fired three times (sec. 1:05, 3:09, 5:32) with grenades that seem to be stored in the tent next to it.

Top left: image of 2B11 Sani from wikipedia. Bottom left: image of 120 mm mortar round from here. Right: frame form video on 434343aaa’s YouTube channel.

The previous post about the weapons used by the Syrian regime on Homs contained some images of the 120 mm 2B11 Sani model, which most likely is the one used here as well. The size of the mortar looks right. Also the grenade that is being prepared in the frozen frame seems to be of the right size.

Left: image of 160 mm mortar from Worldwide Defence. Right: frame from video on 434343aaa’s YouTube channel

The larger mortar seems too slim to match the M-240, pointed in the previous post. Instead it might match the Russian M-160, which replaced the M1943 after WWII.

In the above image Bjørn has marked an area that could be the place where the mortars are positioned. In the above mentioned tweet, the video is said to be from the Alwaar neighbourhood, and according to Wikimapia the neighbourhood to the South East of the marked position is called Al-Waer. That is likely to be a match. And, as can be seen in the enlarged image, the area is framed by some kind of ditch-like structure matching the concrete structure that is visible in the video.

As indicated on the satellite image, the distance from this position to areas in Homs that have been shelled heavily is about 5-6 km, which is within the 7,2 km range of the 2B11 Sani.

Still, what exactly is being targeted by the mortar in the video it’s hard to say.

To the North East of the position is a military training academy. This leaves open the possibility that this is some kind of exercise, but most probably it isn’t. The main reason for this is that the mortar is aimed in the (general) direction from where the video is recorded. Bjørn believes that the elevated filming-position would be somewhere on the edge of Al-Waer facing the open field with the mortar position. If so, the grenades would pass over the heads of those filming, and fall somewhere behind them.

ZSU-23-4 “Shilka”

When the opposing forces can’t rely on planes or helicopters, anti-aircraft weapons are put to different use.

Frame from a video on SyrianDaysOf Rage’s YouTube channel.

There have been several reports about the Russian made Shilka being used in urban fighting in Homs as well as other cities.

The Shilka is a self-propelled anti air craft weapon armed with four 23 mm machine guns (or auto cannons). It has a fast moving turret – as can be seen in this video said to be from Douma, Damascus. The system also has radar guidance, but this has been dismantled on the Shilkas that have been filmed.

According to Wikipedia, Syria has received 400 Shilkas, but there is no estimate of the number still in service.

ZPU-4 quad 14,5 mm are also believed to be in the opposition’s hands.

Three frames from a video on bolna66’s YouTube channel. The video is said to be from Douma, a Damascus suburb.

Chemical weapons or White Phosphorus?:

These tweet are from a Syrian activist:

‏ @tweets4peace: Rastan co-ord said new weapons were used today, 10 confirmed dead, they said chemical too, can anyone tell? [video from hospital#Homs

@tweets4peace: If anyone can analyse to see what was used on these people I’d be grateful – 1st time since 15th March 2011


According to the titles, both videos are from Al-Rastan (25 km north of Homs). And since some of the victims appear in both the one mentioned in the tweet and that posted below, they should be from the same attack.

Bjørn says he is unable to determine what has caused the injuries to the people in the videos and I concur the rest of this paragraph should be considered speculations and taken with grain of salt.

The blistering and reported respiratory problems could correspond with symptoms of mustard gas, but at the moment the reports are far too uncertain to draw any conclusion.

Another suggestion is that these injuries are from white phosphorus.


Since white phosphorus often causes deeper wounds, Bjørn has tried to see if I there is any evidence of such in the video. In the image below I point to some deeper and more sharply defined wounds, but I don’t believe this amounts to proof of white phosphorus being the cause – “ordinary” burns and shell fragments still remains a possibility.

Three frames: the one to the right is from the video linked-to in the first tweet of this section. Left and centre frames are from the video posted above.

Anybody willing to provide information useful to identify the cause of these injuries, please post a comment.

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.