Rebel fighters ‘capture’ Syrian soldiers

Unconfirmed video shows 256 troops being held by opposition, as diplomats seeking to cool tensions meet in Turkey.

Syrian opposition fighters have said they have captured more than 250 members of the government’s armed forces in the province of Idlib.

The announcement on Saturday was accompanied by amateur video showing what the rebels claim are 256 captured Syrian soldiers who were displayed before the cameras.

“All we know is that these prisoners are from al-Zainiyeh,” Al Jazeera’s Anita McNaught reported from Antakya in neighbouring Turkey.

“Al-Zainiyeh was where the Syrian army forces had withdrawn after opposition fighters had driven them out of the villages in that part of Idlib.”

The rebels took al-Zainiyeh three days ago and the prisoners may have been captured during that fighting. Al Jazeera was unable to independently verify the identity of the prisoners or where the video was filmed.

Syrian rebels also shot down a fighter jet in Aleppo, a monitoring group and a military defector said.

“The rebels shot down the fighter jet in the west of Aleppo province, where fierce battles are taking place,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP news agency.

“The jet was bombarding the village of Khan al-Asal.”

A defected military officer in the province confirmed the reports, adding that what he said was a MiG jet was shot down about 10km west of Aleppo, scene of fierce battles since July 20.

Amateur video shot by activists and distributed by the Observatory showed groups of people gathering around a pile of embers, and smoke rising from the scene, as men fired their weapons into the air in celebration.

It also showed the tail of a fixed-wing aircraft, blackened by fire and broken off from the body of the plane.

Also on Saturday, strong explosions were reported in the Syrian capital and the city of Aleppo, according to a Syrian opposition group.

The Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC) in Syria told Al Jazeera a large explosion struck near the Air Force Intelligence branch in the neighbourhood of Jamiah al-Zahra’a in Aleppo on Saturday morning. Heavy gunfire and armed clashes were also reported in the area.

The LCC also reported a large explosion in Damascus.

‘UN failure’

Also on Saturday, Turkey’s prime minister criticised the UN Security Council for its failure to agree on decisive steps to end the 19-month civil war in Syria.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan told an international conference in Istanbul that the world was witnessing a “humanitarian tragedy” in Syria.

“If we wait for one or two of the permanent members … then the future of Syria will be in danger,” said Erdogan, according to an official translator.

Erdogan was referring to Russia and China, two of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, who have vetoed three resolutions on Syria.

He called for a reform of the Security Council, which he called an “unequal, unfair system” that didn’t represent the will of most countries.

“Nobody can claim that the UN Security Council is built upon a fair structure. We have left the world to the mercy of five permanent members – whatever they say happens,” he said.

The comments came as Lakhdar Brahimi, the international envoy to Syria, began talks in Istanbul on the crisis with Turkish officials as tensions soared between Damascus and Ankara over cargo seized from a Syrian passenger plane.

‘Retaliate without hesitation’

Arab League chief Nabil el-Araby and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle were also in Turkey to discuss the crisis. They both held separate meetings with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

In a press conference following his meeting with the German minister, Davutoglu said that his country would retaliate without hesitation if its border with Syria was violted again.

Davutoglu, who held talks with el-Araby, Westerwelle and Brahimi, said that Turkey was prepared to use force again if it was attacked, just as it did last week when a shell fired across the border from Syria killed five Turkish villagers.

“If a similar incident occurs again from the Syrian side, we will again take counter action,” Davutoglu told reporters, while stressing that the border between Syria and Turkey is also the frontier of NATO.

The German foreign minister backed Turkey, saying Berlin would have acted the same way if it believed weapons were being transported to Syria over its airspace.

“It’s not just about weapons. Weapons need to be steered. Weapons need to be delivered,” Westerwelle said. “These are all things that don’t need to be tolerated.”

But he cautioned the situation between Turkey and Syria could quickly escalate out of control.

“The danger of a ‘wildfire’ is very big,” said Westerwelle, who also met briefly with Abdelbaset Sieda, head of the Syrian National Council opposition group. “If that happens, then this can become a devastating conflict for the whole region.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies