Syria's rebels were jubilant Tuesday morning, claiming to have shot down a jet and captured its pilot, an apparent victory against the overwhelmingly superior firepower of President Bashar al-Assad's forces. The government denies the shoot-down.
Video uploaded onto the Internet Monday showed the jet bursting into flames as it streaked through the sky amid heavy gunfire, Reuters reported. The rebels said they had hit it with newly acquired high-caliber anti-aircraft guns.
The jet apparently went down in Mohassan, a small town southeast of Deir al-Zour, a flash point in the revolt.
The government's Syrian Arab News Agency posted an article that said the jet crashed because of technical reasons and that a search for the pilot was under way, the Washington Post reported.
"A technical failure that happened to a military aircraft while it was on an ordinary training flight over the eastern area caused the command devices to break down and the pilot to leave the plane by the ejection seat," said a military source quoted in the article.
Aref Hammoud, a Free Syrian Army spokesman based in Turkey, said Monday that the jet was shot down with a 14.5 millimeter anti-aircraft gun, not missiles.
"Machine guns were used to shoot at the plane. It was in a low range, which made it possible to hit," he said. "Those machine guns were captured from the regime army, and God helped us to hit down this plane."
Rebels also released a video of a man they said was the pilot. They said he had been captured after ejecting, while his stricken aircraft plunged from the sky.
"We will treat this prisoner according to what is required of us by our religion, our morals and the protocols in the Geneva Convention related to prisoners of war," a rebel identified as Capt. Abu Laith said in the video.
But other disturbing footage on YouTube appeared to show rebels meting out violent justice. In one video, dead bodies are thrown from the rooftop of a post office, while a crowd of shouting men watch. Enraged members of the crowd kick the bodies down stairs and can be heard calling them members of the shabbiha pro-government militia.
In another video, a young man's throat is slit with a knife by captors who accuse him of being a member of the shabbiha, while his blood pours on the ground and his last breath rattles. Rebels said the video may have been made by government forces to discredit them.
Meanwhile Monday, foreign ministers at a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, or OIC, agreed to suspend Syria from the international body, an OIC source said, further isolating Assad.
"The session just ended. The ministers adopted the resolutions, including the suspension of Syria," the source told Reuters.
The move by the OIC, a body comprising 56 member states plus the Palestinian Authority that aims to represent Muslim interests on the world stage, is its response to Assad's suppression of the 17-month uprising.
It will have more symbolic than practical implications for the Assad government, which has never put emphasis on religion and which will continue to enjoy support from Iran, which opposed the decision to suspend Syria.
"By suspending membership, this does not mean that you are moving toward resolving an issue. This means that you are erasing the issue. We want to really resolve the issue," Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi told reporters before the meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
The ministers were holding preparatory talks before a two-day OIC summit in Mecca starting on Tuesday, which was called by Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah earlier this month.
In Geneva, Syria's top representative at the U.N. Human Rights Council said Monday he had defected, because he no longer felt able in that position to do anything for the Syrian people.
"Basically, when I felt I could not help my people anymore, I had to move on," Danny Al-Baaj, the first Syrian diplomat in Switzerland to abandon Assad's regime, told AFP.
"When I was involved in any negotiations [on Syria], my concern was to protect the country not the government," he added.
His move comes a week after Syria's Prime Minister Riyad Hijab defected, along with other top officials and military commanders.
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