Saudi Arabia, with some French funds, began supplying anti-aircraft missiles to Syrian rebels “on a small scale” about two months ago, a Gulf source familiar with the matter said on Monday.
The shoulder-fired weapons were obtained mostly from suppliers in France and Belgium, the source told Reuters. France had paid for the transport of the weapons to the region.
The supplies were going to General Salim Idriss, leader of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), who was still the kingdom’s main “point man” in the opposition, the source said.
Speaking to Reuters on Friday, Idriss urged Western allies to supply anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles and to create a no-fly zone, saying if properly armed he could defeat the Syrian army within six months.
The Gulf source said without elaborating that Saudi Arabia had begun taking a more active role in the Syrian conflict.
The remarks come one day after German news weekly Der Spiegel reported that that Saudi Arabia was looking at sending European-made Mistral-class MANPADS, or man-portable air-defense systems.
The article, citing a classified report received by the German foreign intelligence service and the German government last week, said the shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles can target low-flying aircraft including helicopters and had given mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan a decisive edge against Soviet troops in the 1980s.
It wasn’t immediately clear if these were the same anti-aircraft guns that the kingdom has already allegedly sent.
The United States vowed last week to send military aid to rebel forces after accusing the government of using “small amounts” of chemical weapons. Washington has also sent F-16 jets and anti-aircraft guns to Jordan with talk of possibly enforcing a no-fly zone on Syria.
Russia has repeatedly said that a unilateral US-imposed no-fly zone on Syria would violate international law, and on Monday said it would “not allow” such a scenario.
“I think we fundamentally will not allow this scenario,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told a news briefing Monday.
Lukashevich spoke before planned talks between President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of a G8 summit in Northern Ireland which were expected to focus on the conflict in Syria that has killed at least 93,000 people according to the UN.
“All these manoeuvres about no-fly zones and humanitarian corridors are a direct consequence of a lack of respect for international law,” Lukashevich said.
He said Russia did not want a scenario in Syria that resembled the events in Libya after the imposition of a no-fly zone which enabled NATO aircraft to help rebels overthrow Muammar Gaddafi.