Syrian rebels threaten that civil airliners are "legitimate" targets
Reports that France is considering aiding rebel factions in northern Syria with anti aircraft guns is sending tremors through the region's aviation industry as the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has declared civil aircraft to be legitimate military targets.
Less than a dozen international airlines are currently still serving Damascus, although many – including Etihad and Royal Jordanian – have withdrawn services in the past week. The FSA insisted that while they intend to shoot down civilian planes, it would be the regime “and its Russian allies” that are to blame for the resultant deaths.
Several of the Gulf nations that have been arming the rebels have openly resisted sending anti-aircraft weapons to the groups, fearing that this sort of shift might happen. The French government has yet to comment.
The FSA’s threat to target aircraft after September 19 was made by the group's political advisor, Bassam El-Dada.
Speaking on France 24's Arabic channel, he accused the Syrian regime of having "transformed these airports into platforms that serve to transport troops and refill arms and ammunition via Syrian, Iranian and Russian civilian airplanes."
El-Dada blames the regime for the Free Syrian Army's actions, saying: "The responsibility for what happens now is back in the hands of the illegitimate regime of Syria, as well as its Russian allies ... If we were irresponsible, we would not have warned the civilian airlines."
The Arab Air Carriers organisation (AACO) said that in June 2012 only 117 weekly flights operated to and from Syria, compared to 505 during the same period in 2011.