Beirut, Lebanon – Violence has killed more than 15,000 people in Syria since a revolt erupted last year against the regime of President Bashar Al Assad, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Thursday.
At least 10,480 civilians, 3,715 soldiers and 830 defectors have been killed in the crackdown and in clashes since March 2011, said the Britain-based group, which counts those who have taken up arms against the regime as civilians.
Syrian MiG fighter jet pilot defects to Jordan-sources
The news of the total estimated death toll was follwed shortly by news a Syrian MiG 21 fighter jet landed in Jordan on Thursday.
Opposition activists said was the first defection involving an aircraft since the start of a 15-month-old uprising against President Bashar Al Assad.
“The plane landed at King Hussain Airbase at 11 a.m. (0800 GMT),” a Jordanian security source told Reuters, referring to a military airport 80 kms (50 miles) northest of the capital Amman.
Syrian state television said communication was lost with a plane of the same model at 10:34 a.m. while it was on a training mission near the southern border with Jordan.
CIA vetting arms flow to Syria rebels: report
Earlier Thursday the New York Times reported that US intelligence operatives in Turkey are vetting the flow of weapons to Syrian rebels to ensure they do not fall into the hands of Al Qaida militants.
The Times cited unnamed US officials and Arab intelligence officials as saying the weapons were being paid for by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar and funneled across the border by a shadowy opposition network.
The weapons include automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and some anti-tank weapons, which have allowed the rebels to fight back against the far superior forces of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.
The Times said Central Intelligence Agency operatives in southern Turkey are overseeing the weapons shipments and gathering information on Syria’s fragmented opposition.
Trying to recruit
“CIA officers are there and they are trying to make new sources and recruit people,” the Times quoted an Arab intelligence official who is briefed regularly by US counterparts as saying
The Times quoted US officials as saying they were considering stepping up aid to the rebels by providing satellite imagery and other intelligence, but had yet to take a final decision on the matter.
The Times report comes a week after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Russia of sending helicopters to its close ally Syria, sparking a row with Moscow, which has rebuffed Western calls for Assad to step down.
Washington has denied arming the opposition, and Russia has denied sending any weapons to Syria that could be used against anti-regime protesters.
Russia has also denied sending new helicopters to Syria, saying it has only carried out repairs and routine maintenance on helicopters supplied many years ago. A Russian ship allegedly carrying attack helicopters and destined for Syria was turned back from British waters earlier this week.
The Syrian revolt began in March 2011 with a wave of peaceful protests against the Al Assad family’s 42-year reign, but has become increasingly militarized over the course of a brutal 15-month crackdown.