Nusra Front captures pilot from downed Syrian jet

Syrian state media have also reported militant shelling of a predominantly Kurdish neighborhood northern of Aleppo, killing nine

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Syria militants shot down a warplane on Tuesday in an area south of the city of Aleppo where insurgents are battling the Syrian army and allied militias, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The monitor said a plume of smoke was seen as the plane caught fire before it fell in the Talat al-Iss highland, where al Qaeda-affiliated militants have come under heavy bombardment by Syrian and Russian planes since they captured the area this week.

Syrian state TV confirmed that the jet was shot down by a surface-to-air missile in Aleppo province and the pilot ejected.

However according to the monitor and a militant source said that the pilot of downed plane has been taken by al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra front to one of its headquarters.

Videos downloaded on social media also showed footage of the plane and pictures of the wreckage of a burnt plane surrounded by rebels.

Militants last downed a Syrian jet in the western province of Hama on March 12. Then they also denied a Russian Defense Ministry report they had used an anti-aircraft missile. The Observatory said on that occasion a militant group had used two heat-seeking missiles.

Ahmed al-Seoud, the head of a Free Syrian Army rebel group operating in northwestern Syria, said on Tuesday: "Not one faction in the opposition has surface-to-air missiles."

A former rebel commander and army defector, Brigadier General Ahmad Rahal, said he had information that the warplane in Aleppo was brought down by artillery fire.

"The Syrian air force planes are old and so after a certain mileage they need overhaul and are forced to fly at very low altitudes. They risk getting hit" by gunfire, he told Reuters.

Missiles could hit jets flying at a higher altitudes and with greater accuracy.

A Syrian military source said the incident was "a dangerous indication of the weapons the terrorists are obtaining".

Aerial supremacy has been a major advantage for the Syrian army that has been battling insurgents seeking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.

A fragile truce has held in Syria for more than a month as the various parties try to negotiate an end to the five-year civil war.

But the truce excludes ISIS and Nusra Front, and air and land attacks by Syrian and allied forces continue in parts of Syria where the government says the groups are present.


One Turkish soldier was also lightly wounded on Tuesday after a military outpost in the southeastern province of Gaziantep came under fire from ISIS militants from across the Syrian border.

Shelling in Aleppo

In Aleppo, Syrian state media and an activist group have also reported that militant shelling of a predominantly Kurdish neighborhood northern of the city has killed at least nine people.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says Tuesday's shelling came amid clashes between militants, including members of al-Qaida's branch in Syria, and Kurdish fighters. The activist group says nine were killed.

The state SANA news agency says the rocket attack on the city's Sheik Maqssoud neighborhood killed 14 and wounded about 50.

Sheikh Maqsoud is on the northern edge of Aleppo and has been repeatedly targeted by militants over the past few months amid fighting on its outskirts.

On Monday, state media reported that insurgents fired dozens of shells at the same neighborhood, killing eight and wounding more than 20.

Syrian rebels advance against ISIS

In other parts of Syria, Syrian rebels were closing in on a town near the Turkish border held by ISIS after seizing numerous villages from the group in the area, rebels and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The rebels involved in the offensive include factions fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army that have been supplied with weapons via Turkey. They are advancing towards the ISIS-held town of al-Rai.

A sustained rebel advance near the Turkish border would erode ISIS’ last foothold in an area identified by the United States as a priority in the fight against the group.

Rebels who have previously struggled to make sustained gains against ISIS in the area have mobilized several thousand fighters for the attack, rebel sources said. An alliance of rebel groups formed for the offensive includes the Turkish-backed Sultan Murad and Failaq al Sham groups.

"The battles are continuing ... we have been able to liberate several villages very quickly from the Daesh gangs and God willing will cleanse northern Aleppo," said Abu Yasser, a commander with Failaq al Sham group, speaking to Reuters.

The Observatory said the rebel groups had seized at least 16 villages in an area held by ISIS for nearly two years.

ISIS’ foothold at the Turkish border was significantly reduced last year by U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters of the YPG, which gained territory from the group further east.

The YPG and rebels are however locked in their own conflict, notably near the city of Aleppo. Turkey, a major sponsor of groups fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad, has been alarmed by YPG gains near the frontier with Syria.

(With Reuters and AP)

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