Islamist rebels shot down a Syrian warplane and captured its pilot on Tuesday in an area south of Aleppo where insurgents are battling the Syrian army and allied militias, a monitoring group said.
Syria’s military confirmed that a plane on a reconnaissance mission had been shot down and said it was hit by a surface-to-air missile. The pilot had bailed out and efforts were underway to rescue him, it said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighters from al Qaeda’s Nusra Front group captured the pilot and took him to one of their headquarters in the area. There was no immediate rebel comment on the use of an anti-aircraft missile.
The Observatory 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 rebels have come under heavy bombardment by Syrian and Russian planes since they captured the area this week.
Videos on social media also showed footage of an aircraft and pictures of the wreckage of a burnt plane surrounded by rebels.
Aerial supremacy has been a major advantage for the Syrian army that has been battling insurgents seeking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.
Foreign-backed rebels have long demanded anti-aircraft weapons to offset the impact of devastating aerial raids by Syrian forces and, since September, also by Russian planes.
But their backers have been wary of delivering weapons that could fall into the hands of hardline groups.
Last month, Syrian rebels denied a Russian Defence Ministry report that an anti-aircraft missile had been used to shoot down a Syrian warplane in Hama province.
Officials in three rebel groups contacted by Reuters reiterated previous statements that that plane had been shot down with anti-aircraft guns.
A fragile “cessation of hostilities” truce has held in Syria for over a month as the various parties try to negotiate an end to the five-year-old civil war.
But the truce excludes Islamic State 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.