BEIRUT — The rebel Free Syrian Army on Thursday said it shot down a regime warplane in the northwest province of Idlib, as a watchdog reported a fresh eruption of violence across eastern suburbs of Damascus.
“I can confirm that a MiG was shot down this morning by our men using automatic weapons, shortly after taking off from Abu Zohur military airport in Idlib province,” the FSA’s chief in the province, Colonel Afif Mahmoud Suleiman, told AFP.
Unverified footage posted to YouTube showed a group of rebels standing over the body of one of the crew, still wearing his parachute harness.
“This is an Alawite shabiha (pro-regime militiaman)”, one says, in reference to the minority sect of President Bashar al-Assad in Sunni-majority Syria.
The plane was shot down in an attack by “hundreds of rebels” on the airport, an operation that lasted from Wednesday night at 9pm (1800 GMT) until noon on Thursday (0900 GMT), said Suleiman, who heads the FSA Military Council in Idlib.
“We have been planning this attack for three days,” he added.
Suleiman also said 11 MiGs at the airport were destroyed and that soldiers manning the air base either fled or were killed. The rebels are now in “full control” of the Abu Zohur base, he said.
His claims could not be immediately verified.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that according to witnesses and activists, the warplane “crashed” near the airport, without elaborating.
According to the Britain-based watchdog, rebels took over parts of the airport overnight, and explosions were heard from inside the facility.
On August 13, rebels claimed they downed a Russian-made MiG in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor and captured its pilot.
State media said a military plane on a training mission crashed in the east of the country after suffering a malfunction and that the pilot had ejected.
On Wednesday, rebels had said they destroyed five helicopters at the Taftanaz military airport between the northern cities of Aleppo and Idlib, but state media rejected the claims and said no material damage had been caused.
“Taftanaz and Abu Zohur are the two main airports in Idlib the regime uses to send aircraft to bomb residential areas and commit crimes… so we decided to attack,” Suleiman said.
“We warn the regime in the coming days that it will face more attacks… we will respond to massacres with a spectacular military response,” he said.
Elsewhere in Idlib on Thursday, the Observatory reported fierce shelling on the village of Kfar Nabal, which was also bombarded earlier in the week when at least 13 civilians were killed.
In Deir Ezzor province, rebels fired mortar rounds at a military security headquarters in the town of Albu Kamal, the Observatory said, adding that clashes also broke out near another military security headquarters in Deir Ezzor city.
In the capital Damascus, gunfire reverberated across Qaboon district, according to the Syrian Revolution General Council, a network of local activists.
Another activist network, the Local Coordination Committees, said fighting also erupted in the city’s southern Tadamun district.
In the northern city of Aleppo, the contested southern districts of Salaheddin, Saif al-Dawla and Sukari were again the scene of fierce fighting and shelling, the Observatory said.
One civilian was killed in Damascus province, four were killed in the southern province of Daraa, another died in Deir Ezzor province and a civilian and rebel were killed in central Hama province, it added.
The violence followed a bloody day in which the Observatory reported 44 civilians killed in Damascus province alone, the majority dying in or around the eastern belt of the capital, where fighting has centred for the past week.
A total of 128 people — 77 civilians, 19 rebels and 32 soldiers — were killed nationwide on Wednesday, it said.
The Observatory says that more than 25,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March last year. The figures are impossible to verify.