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Rebels say they've downed a military jet as fresh violence rages across Syria

Rebels say they've downed a military jet as fresh violence rages across Syria
Monday, August 13, 2012 - 5:22pm

ALEPPO, Syria (CNN) -- Syrian rebels said Monday they shot down a military jet, an assertion denied by the government, which blamed the crash on a "technical failure."

Video posted by the rebel forces shows a jet framed in a cloudless sky being shot at, catching fire and falling out of frame.

"A MiG warplane shot down in Mouhassen!" says an excited man off-camera, citing a location in Deir Ezzor northeast of the capital city of Damascus. "God is great!"

State television said that the Syrian jet fighter crashed during a routine training mission because of "technical failure" and that the pilot ejected safely.

"The searching process for the pilot is still ongoing," a military source told state television.

A few hours later, the opposition Local Coordinating Committees posted a video showing what it said was the pilot, whom it identified as Col. Mufeed Mohamad Suleiman. No identity card was shown.

The man, dressed in civilian clothes, seated at a table and surrounded by armed men, called on other military officers to defect.

He said the rebels had provided him with first aid to treat the bruises on his face that he suffered during his parachute jump.

A man who identified himself as a rebel captain said the pilot would be treated as a prisoner of war.

CNN cannot independently confirm the authenticity of either video.

The report came as China invited an envoy for Syrian President Basar al-Assad to visit Beijing on Tuesday, adding that it "is also considering inviting members of the Syrian opposition to visit."

A spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry said the envoy, Bouthaina Shaaban, would meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.

"To promote the political solution to the Syria problem, China has always actively balanced its work between the Syrian government and the opposition to urge Syria to put to practice (former Arab League and U.N. envoy Kofi) Annan's suggestions and advice by the U.N. Security Council -- immediately cease fire and all violent actions, protect civilians and resolve the crisis through talks," the spokesman said.

"Reception of Shaaban's visit is part of this task."

The United Nations announced Monday that Valerie Amos, its under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, is to visit Damascus as well as Beirut, Lebanon, from Tuesday until Thursday.

"The three-day visit aims to draw attention to the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Syria and the impact of the conflict on people ... remaining in Syria and who have fled to other countries, including Lebanon," the world body said in a statement.

The difficulty in resolving the continuing carnage was underscored by a report Monday from opposition activists who said that Syrian forces in Damascus had publicly executed at least 10 people.

The executions took place in Jdeidet Artouz, where residents were unable to reach the bodies because "regime forces have been firing at anything that moves," the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said.

At least 93 people were killed across Syria on Monday, including 16 in Homs and 55 in Damascus and its suburbs, the Local Coordinating Committees said.

Helicopters shelled the southern town of Tafas, where regime forces prevented residents from fleeing, the group said.

Tafas is near the city of Daraa, where anti-government protests began in March 2011.

The state-run SANA news agency reported Monday that Syrian armed forces had killed "a large number of mercenary terrorists" in the dissident stronghold of Homs.

On Sunday, pro-regime forces executed 10 men in Homs, the opposition Syrian National Council said.

"The military began calling the residents from the mosques surrounding the Shammas neighborhood that all young men need to come down to the streets with their hands behind their heads," the SNC said.

Another opposition group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said three children were killed when regime forces fired on a minibus carrying residents fleeing the Shammas neighborhood.

On state-run TV, the government also blamed "terrorists" for that attack, saying three people, including two children, were killed on the bus.

Some opposition activists tried to distance themselves from certain images shown on YouTube. One video appears to show rebels in control of a government communications building in El Bab, in Aleppo province, throwing the bodies of government fighters from a roof.

"We strongly condemn this heinous act," said Abdul Hafiz Abdul Rahman, an activist with the Syrian human rights organization MAF. He said that when he saw the video, "I felt that part of me died, and now I'm worried about the revolution."

On Sunday, government forces attacked several cities, including Rastan, which was subjected to "very intense shelling," according to the LCC.

An activist in Rastan described the situation via Skype: "The shelling is continuing for hours now. There is massive destruction as well as many people killed and injured. We call for help to break the siege around the city. There is no running water or electricity. There is lack of food and baby formula. The only automated bakery was shelled so we have lack of bread as well."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Saturday the United States would start to develop contingency plans with its Turkish allies in the event that the embattled Syrian regime collapses.

Her announcement in Istanbul came 17 months into an escalating crisis that has led an estimated 150,000 refugees to flee into neighboring nations, including Turkey, which is hosting more than 59,000 people, according to Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Situation Management Directorate.

More than 4,000 of them arrived since Saturday, it said.

"There is a very clear understanding about the need to end this conflict quickly, but not doing it in a way that produces even more deaths, injuries and destruction," Clinton said after meeting with her Turkish counterpart, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

The United Nations estimated Monday that 2 million people have been affected and more than 1 million internally displaced.

The Syrian crisis has claimed roughly 17,000 lives since it erupted last year, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said last month. Opposition activists have put the toll at more than 20,000.

CNN's Holly Yan, Salma Abdelaziz and Ivan Watson contributed to this report.

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