Syrian activists say rebels shot down warplane

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian activists said rebels shot down a government warplane over the northern province of Idlib on Thursday, the second time in a week opposition fighters claimed to have brought down an aircraft in the escalating civil war.

Two activist groups, The Local Coordination Committees and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the plane was seen crashing near the Abu Zuhour air base. Idlib-based activist Alaa al-Din said rebels shot it down with heavy machine guns.

A video broadcast on the pan-Arab satellite station Al-Arabiya shows what appears to be a person parachuting and rebels cheering and claiming he was the pilot. The video’s authenticity could not be verified.

The government had no immediate comment, and the report couldn’t be independently confirmed. But a brief video clip posted by an Idlib-based rebel group showed the body of a man in an olive-green pilot overall with an apparent head wound. A short distance away lay what appeared to be a white parachute.

The authenticity of the video, dated Aug. 30, could not be independently verified.

Over the past month, President Bashar Assad’s regime has been relying much more heavily on air power, escalating the fight with rebels as its ground forces have been stretched thin fighting on many fronts including Syria’s two largest cities — Damascus and Aleppo. The military has conducted air raids on the northern regions of Idlib and Aleppo near Turkey as well as the eastern province of Deir el-Zour.

The increased use of air power is likely a factor in the high daily death tolls, which activists say have been averaging 100-250 lately.

Later in the day, Human Rights Watch said government forces have killed scores of civilians over the past three weeks by bombarding at least 10 areas where they were lining up at bakeries near and around Aleppo.

“Day after day, Aleppo residents line up to get bread for their families, and instead get shrapnel piercing their bodies from government bombs,” researcher Ole Solvang said in a statement after returning from the northern city.

The rebels’ claim of shooting down the warplane on Thursday was the third time this month they said they have brought down a government aircraft.

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