Syrian rebels said they captured the pilot of a MiG-23 warplane that the Free Syrian Army claimed to have shot down Monday in the east of the country.
The man, identified as Col. Mufid Mohammad Suleiman, was described as “a staunch enemy of the revolution” by an FSA spokesman, who said he had served with him for years before his own defection.
A video shows Suleiman surrounded by three armed men after the rebels claimed to have shot down a fighter near the village of Muhasan in the governorate of Deir al-Zor.
A fourth man, who interrogates the pilot in the video, credits one of his comrades with shooting down the plane, and another with capturing the pilot after his ejection.
Syria’s state media said earlier that a warplane had suffered a malfunction while on a routine training mission in the east of the country, and that the pilot had ejected.
If confirmed, it would be the first time the rebels have succeeded in downing a Syrian plane since the conflict erupted in March last year.
FSA spokesman Qassem Saadeddine said the plane was a MiG-23BN and that the pilot was from Zahraa, an Alawite neighborhood in the city of Homs.
“He is a member of a squadron I used to fly with ... before I defected,” he told AFP via Skype.
“I served with him for 15 years, and he is a staunch enemy of the revolution.” The pilot is seen saying: “My mission was to bomb the town of Muhasan.”
He says he received minor facial wounds upon parachuting to the ground.
“The revolutionaries have treated me well and they gave me first aid.
“They are good people,” he added.
The interrogator pledges to “treat this prisoner in accordance with our religion and our ethics and the Geneva Convention.”
An anti-regime activist uploaded a separate video on YouTube Monday, said to be from Muhasan, and showing a warplane streak through the skies amid heavy gunfire. The jet suddenly erupts into flames and begins to swirl, leaving a trail of smoke.
“God is the greatest! A MiG fighter jet has been hit in the town of Muhasan,” the activist shouts. There was no indication from the video as to whether the jet had been struck by rebel weapons fire. It was also not possible to verify the location or date of the video.
An opposition source working with rebels in the area told Reuters the insurgents used anti-aircraft guns to down the jet. The plane was “brought down by a 14.5 anti-aircraft gun, the biggest in the rebel arsenal. The plane was flying too low and was within range,” the source said.
Meanwhile, the Syrian Army advanced into a new rebel-held area of the country’s second city, days after it seized control of the neighboring district of Salaheddine, an activist group said.
“With tanks, Syria’s regime forces have stormed the west of the district of Saif al-Dawla,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. “They are now clashing with the rebels, and parts of Salaheddine are being shelled.”
Rebels and regime forces have continued to clash in several areas of the city, once the country’s commercial bastion, since the FSA was forced to retreat from most of Salaheddine last week.
Pro-opposition websites reported clashes between rebels and government forces and rebels in Damascus, Deraa, Homs and Hama, as well as shelling and other acts of violence that claimed approximately 100 lives, according to the Local Coordination Committees, a network of anti-government activists. More than half were killed in Damascus and surrounding areas.
For its part, Syria’s state media said government troops engaged “terrorist gangs” in several areas of the country, without mentioning precise casualty figures.
Separately, China said Monday that it would host an envoy of Syrian President Bashar Assad and consider another visit by members of the opposition, as Beijing steps up its diplomacy to help resolve the crisis.
China’s Foreign Ministry said Assad’s envoy, Bouthaina Shaaba, would begin a visit Tuesday and meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.
“To promote thepolitical solution to the Syria problem, China has always actively balanced its work between the Syrian government and the opposition,” ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a brief statement on the ministry’s website.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 14, 2012, on page 1.