July 1, 2016 / 9:37 AM / 2 years ago

Syrian warplane crashes near Damascus, insurgents kill pilot

BEIRUT (Reuters) - A Syrian warplane crashed northeast of Damascus on Friday and insurgents captured and killed its pilot, rebel and Syrian military sources said.

Syrian state media said the crash was due to a technical fault and the pilot had ejected. The rebel group Jaish al-Islam said it had shot down the plane, but did not say how.

The military source accused Jaish al-Islam of killing the pilot after he parachuted into an area controlled by the group. “This despicable crime carried out by what is called the terrorist Jaish al-Islam will not go unpunished,” the source said.

Jaish al-Islam said the pilot was killed by a fighter from the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front while being held at a joint command center. Jaish al-Islam had earlier said he would be handed over to them because they had shot down his plane.

Jaish al-Islam, which controls territory on the Syrian capital’s eastern and northeastern outskirts, had earlier circulated a photo that it said showed the pilot.

“We call on the Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham to issue a statement explaining what happened and also call on them to hand over the pilot’s body,” a Jaish al-Islam statement said. Ahrar al-Sham is another large insurgent group.

Rebels shot down at least two warplanes earlier this year. The Syrian government said one of them had been downed by an anti-aircraft missile, but rebels said they had used anti-aircraft guns.

Foreign-backed rebels have long demanded anti-aircraft missiles to help them fight off air raids by Syrian and Russian forces. Russia has been a major ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and arms supplier in the civil war, now in its sixth year.

Reporting by John Davison and Tom Perry; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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