* Rebels complain of lack of weapons from supporters abroad
* Make home-made mortars and refurbish seized hardware
* Rebel advances to oust Assad have stalled
By Yara Bayoumy
ALEPPO PROVINCE, Syria, Dec 31 At a converted
warehouse in the midst of a block of residential homes in a
northern Syrian town, men are hard at work at giant lathes,
shavings of metal gathering around them.
Sacks of potassium nitrate and sugar lie nearby.
In a neat row against the wall is the finished product,
homemade mortars. Syrian rebels say they have been forced to
make them because their calls for heavy weapons and ammunition
to fight President Bashar al-Assad have gone unanswered.
"No one's giving us any support. So we're working on our own
to strike Bashar," said a bearded man spinning the metal to
create the warhead.
Using the Internet, the workshop of about seven men work
together to try and perfect the crude weapons. For explosives,
they pick out TNT from unexploded rockets that Assad's forces
have fired towards them and repackage them into their own
weapons. Each gave different estimates of the mortars' range.
"We're volunteers, we were workers, we were never soldiers.
They're locally made. They don't have the strength of the
regime's rockets, but they are having good effects," said Abu
Mohammed, who said the mortars created a 3-1/2 metre crater.
Another worker said the mortars, which take about a day to
make, could reach a distance of 6 km (almost 4 miles).
Although the rebels, who are mostly Sunni Muslim fighters,
have made big gains in the northern and eastern parts of Syria
in the 21-month conflict, they are outgunned by Assad's forces.
Some rebel groups are receiving supplies from Gulf states,
and Western countries say they are giving non-lethal aid. But
many rebels say they have not received anything.
Colonel Abdel-Jabbar Oqaidi, who heads the rebels' military
council in Aleppo province, told Reuters last week that his
forces are fighting without any help from the Western and Arab
governments which want Assad removed from power.
"We aren't able to get any weapons from abroad. We have
nothing except for the rifle to fight with," said another man at
The success rate of the weapons is questionable. Two men
said the mortars hit 80 to 90 percent of the targets, but there
have been problems. Sometimes the mortars do not detonate, other
times they explode prematurely.
"The more we practice, the more experience we get," said one
of the men, explaining how they discovered that if they let the
propelling agent mixture set for too long it absorbed humidity,
which in turn stopped the mortar from detonating.
At one of the Aleppo frontline positions, rebels fired the
mortars from a homemade tube, fashioned from piping on a mount
made from a car axle.
The rebels have also been working on refurbishing weaponry
acquired during takeovers of Assad's military bases.
Parked in a residential street, a group of men have been
working on fixing a T-72 tank whose gear box was blown.
Abu Jumaa, one of the mechanics working on the 1970s tank,
said fighters had taken it from an infantry college in north
Syria that had recently fallen to rebel forces.
"We have no tanks, no planes, no artillery. All we have is
what we get in spoils and we go to war against him (Assad) with
what we get. That's the reality. We're forced to do this," he
"These tanks are useless in the first place. It can't be
called a tank, It's a lump of scrap iron," he said gesturing at
the chipped army green metal.
Rebel fighters on the frontline consistently complain of
shortages of weapons and ammunition that have forced them to
stop advances and focus on keeping the ground they have gained.
"We get 3,000 bullets a month. No anti-aircraft missiles ...
everything is from the military bases (we take over)," said one
young rebel fighter from the Supporters of Mohammed Brigade,
wearing a plaid yellow and black turban.
Even though the rebels have managed to seize large
quantities of weapons from military bases, they struggle with a
chronic shortage of ammunition and weapons to target Assad's
"You see how the planes are striking all of us, not
differentiating between old and young ... God has helped us,
we've made these rockets and we're using them to hit back at
them all over again," said Abu Mohammed.