Syrian rebels say they have shot down a fighter jet

August 30, 2012

Rebel forces said Thursday that they had shot down a Syrian fighter jet in the northwest of the country, only three days after rebels appeared to have shot down a helicopter over Damascus.

The downing of the jet, if confirmed, would be the third attack in a little more than two weeks in which rebels have brought down a government aircraft, a sign that the fighters have either received more sophisticated weaponry or are becoming more proficient at using the weapons in their arsenal.

Rebel commanders say they have repeatedly asked their foreign supporters for surface to air missiles, but have not received any.

A Free Syrian Army spokesman said rebel fighters attacked the Abu al-Zuhour military air base, east of the city of Idlib, and peppered the jet with heavy machine gun fire as it was taking off from the runway.

“Attacking airports has become a necessity in this phase because the regime is using the air force to hit civilians,” Col. Malik Kurdi said.

Video footage aired on al-Jazeera, the satellite news network, shows rebels standing on what appears to be the wing of an airplane. Moments later, a fighter points toward flaming wreckage on the ground and shouts, “These are your jets, Bashar al-Assad,” referring to the Syrian president.

In separate video aired on the al-Arabiya television network, a man is seen parachuting to the ground through a smoke-filled sky as rebels shoot in his direction with machine guns.

“A jet plane was shot down in the city of Abu al-Zuhour while the plane was leaving the runway,” a fighter in the video says. “The pilots ejected with their parachutes.”

A third video, posted online Thursday, shows the body of a man in a flight suit, allegedly the pilot of the jet. He is strapped to an orange and white parachute and lying in a dirt field. The man appears to have been shot in the head; there is a large pool of blood on the ground.

“The Alawiite shabiha were killed after they started shooting,” a man wearing a camouflage outfit says in the video, referring to the militiamen who are fighting alongside government troops from Assad’s Alawite sect. There appears to be a second parachute in the background of the video, but there is no clear sign of a second airman.

Video aired on al-Jazeera on Thursday depicted rebels allegedly carrying out a night attack, shooting mortars at the airport. Heavy fires and smoke can be seen at the facility, in green-tinted footage.

The Syrian military has ramped up air attacks across the country in the past month with helicopters and jets attacking residential areas in many cities. In a rare television interview on Wednesday, Assad said that he was willing to strengthen his military assault on anti-government forces and insisted that the rebels would be defeated.

An air raid Tuesday on the western city of Kafr Nabel killed at least 23 people, according to the Local Coordination Committees activist network. Video that appeared to have been filmed just after the attack shows several cars on fire and wounded people being removed from rubble in the streets.

Ahmed Ramadan contributed to this report

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