* France says rebel weapons force Syrian jets higher
* High-altitude bombing is indiscriminate-Fabius
* Video shows rebels using shoulder-held missiles
PARIS, Oct 17 Syrian rebels have acquired heavy
weapons that have forced the government's air force to bomb
rebel-held zones indiscriminately from high altitude, France's
foreign minister said before meeting rebel groups on Wednesday.
Laurent Fabius, one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's
harshest critics, made his comments ahead of a closed door
conference in Paris with civilian members of rebel councils that
run areas seized from central government control.
They included representatives from Maarat al-Numan, a town
whose seizure last week cut the main route from Damascus to
"In a certain number of these zones, Bashar al-Assad is
bombarding them with MiG fighter jets, and what is particularly
horrible is that he is bombarding them with TNT," Fabius said.
"But at the same time there are now weapons that are forcing
the planes to fly extremely high, and so the strikes are less
accurate," he told reporters.
Amateur footage of rebels using shoulder-mounted
surface-to-air missiles have emerged in recent days. On
Wednesday, activists posted videos of what they said was a
Syrian military helicopter spiralling to the ground and
exploding in flames.
Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human
Rights, said that the helicopter had been downed near Maarat
al-Numan. "Some rebels say they used anti-aircraft missiles," he
told Reuters by phone from Britain.
Fabius said Syrian government forces were also
indiscriminately dropping cluster bombs, a charge levelled by
Human Rights Watch on Sunday but denied by
Cluster bombs explode in the air, scattering dozens of
smaller bomblets over an area the size of a sports field. Most
nations have banned their use under a convention that became
international law in 2010, but which Syria has not signed.
Outgunned rebels have struggled to turn the tide of the
19-month conflict against government forces equipped with tanks,
jets and helicopter gunships.
Western powers have been reluctant to arm the insurgents
because they lack a coherent leadership and because of fears
that weapons could end up in the hands of Islamist militants who
are increasingly evident in the conflict.
France began channelling money and humanitarian aid to
rebel-held parts of Syria in August so that the areas could run
themselves as part of efforts to create an alternative to the
However, the French plan falls well short of the
foreign-protected safe havens the opposition says it needs and
offers little hope of relief to civilians fleeing the chaos.
Russia, which has been Assad's primary arms supplier, and
China have vetoed three resolutions favoured by Western powers
condemning Syrian authorities and opening the way to U.N.
sanctions on Damascus.
Fabius said Moscow's stance would only cement chaos in
Syria, adding that he had told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei
Lavrov that: "If you continue to oppose a change of regime, then
the extremists risk taking control."