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As Syria unravels, prices soar for guns, grenades, and RPGs

The cost of an AK-47 has nearly doubled, from $1,200 to $2,100, since the Syrian uprising began in March. The armed opposition says weapons are necessary to hasten the fall of Assad's regime.

By Correspondent / January 9, 2012

This image made from amateur video and released by Ugarit News purports to show Syrians chanting slogans during a rally in Homs, Syria, Saturday, Jan. 7.

Ugarit News/AP

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Beirut, Lebanon

The demand for black-market weapons in Syria is soaring as the 10-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's regime turns increasingly violent, say Lebanese arms dealers.

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Procuring sufficient supplies of weapons and ammunition has become a key requirement of rebel groups, including the Free Syrian Army, a military force composed of deserters from the regular army. Syrian opposition activists say they urgently need weapons to fight back against the security forces and hasten the downfall of the Assad regime.

“We are pushing for weapons but no one is listening,” says Ahmad, a Syrian activist living in hiding in north Lebanon. “Even with limited resources we are making painful attacks. Imagine what we could do if we had the weapons.”

The weapons shortage in Syria, the record high prices for arms in Lebanon, and the limited scale of smuggling into Syria suggests that the Syrian opposition has not yet secured the external logistical support that could help them tip the balance against the Assad regime. 

The Arab world for now is limiting its involvement to the Arab League observer mission which is monitoring Syria’s compliance with a deal signed last month to end the crackdown which has left more than 5,000 people dead, according to the United Nations.

The international community has slapped sanctions on the Assad regime but so far has shown a reluctance to play a more direct role. On Sunday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu urged a delegation from the Syrian National Council, the leading opposition body, to maintain “peaceful means” in pursuing its resistance against the Assad regime.

The prices of black-market weapons have climbed steadily since mid-March 2011, when the uprising began, but arms dealers say there has been a jump lately in the prices of certain armaments.

“There’s a big demand right now for rocket-propelled grenade launchers, hand grenades, and ammunition,” says Abu Rida, a stocky arms dealer in Beirut.

RPG prices double; grenade prices quadruple 

The price of a good quality Russian AK-47 assault rifle has almost doubled in the past 10 months from around $1,100 to $2,100. A rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launcher cost $900 last March and a single grenade was priced at around $100. Today an RPG launcher is worth $2,000 and each grenade $500.

“The prices are crazy. And it’s all going to Syria,” Abu Rida says. “The market is so strong that ordinary people are selling their rifles to make a quick profit.”

Part of the price hike is due to the difficulties in smuggling weapons into Syria on a large scale. While there's significant smuggling between Syria and Lebanon, activity on Syria's other borders is not as high. Syria shares borders with Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, and Lebanon, all of them – barring the frontier with Israel – relatively porous and traditionally susceptible to smuggling.

The border with Iraq, in particular, stretches across 370 miles of mainly stony desert. The Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki, the Shiite prime minister, has generally sided with the Assad regime.

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