Syrian MiG ‘shot down’ - 8,000 regime forces killed OPPOSITION SNC NOT UP TO JOB, SAYS EX-MEMBER

DAMASCUS, Aug 30, (Agencies): Rebels said they shot down a MiG warplane on Thursday as violence whipped across Syria ahead of a UN Security Council meeting on deteriorating humanitarian conditions in the country and along its
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy, meanwhile, caused a storm with a speech at a Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran, slamming the Damascus regime as “oppressive” and urging support for the opposition.
“I can confirm that a MiG was shot down this morning by our men using automatic weapons, shortly after taking off from Abu Zohur military airport in Idlib province,” the rebel Free Syrian Army chief for the northern province, Colonel Afif Mahmoud Suleiman, told AFP.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime forces retaliated by shelling the area, and that eight children and nine women were among at least 20 people killed.
“The two pilots who parachuted from the plane were captured,” Suleiman said, adding that 11 MiGs at the airport were also destroyed and that soldiers manning the air base either fled or were killed.
The rebels are now in “full control” of the Abu Zohur base, he said. His claims could not be immediately verified.
“We warn the regime in the coming days that it will face more attacks ... we will respond to massacres with a spectacular military response,” he said.
On Aug 13, rebels claimed they downed a Russian-made MiG in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, and on Monday rebels said they had shot down a helicopter during fierce fighting in the Damascus suburb of Qaboon.
The Syrian regime acknowledged the first two aircraft crashes but put them down to mechanical failures. It has not yet commented on the latest claim.
The Syrian Observatory had earlier said rebels took over parts of a military airport in Idlib overnight, and that explosions could be heard from inside the facility.
The violence came as a war of words erupted between Egypt’s Morsy and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem in the presence of NAM leaders after their summit began in Iran’s capital.
“The revolution in Egypt is the cornerstone for the Arab Spring, which started days after Tunisia and then it was followed by Libya and Yemen and now the revolution in Syria against its oppressive regime,” Morsy said in his address.
“Our solidarity with the struggle of Syrians against an oppressive regime that has lost its legitimacy is an ethical duty, and a political and strategic necessity,” he added.
With his delegation walking out in protest, Muallem accused Morsy of using his speech to incite further bloodshed in Syria.
The speech amounted to “interference in Syria’s internal affairs and ... incites continued bloodshed in Syria,” he said, quoted from Tehran on Syrian state television.
On the sidelines of the summit, Morsy held talks with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on bilateral and regional issues including Syria, an official said.
“They emphasised the need to solve the Syria crisis via diplomacy and to prevent foreign intervention,” Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian told Iran’s Arabic-language broadcaster Al-Alam.
Thursday’s UN Security Council meeting has been called by France and is aimed at “appealing to world conscience and for mobilisation” in the face of the Syrian humanitarian drama, a diplomat said in New York.
The Britain-based Observatory reported a total of 128 people — 77 civilians, 19 rebels and 32 soldiers — killed nationwide on Wednesday, including at least 44 civilians in Damascus.
In a preliminary toll issued before the Abu Zohur shelling, it said at least eight people were killed on Thursday.
The director of the capital’s Tishrin military hospital, meanwhile, said more than 8,000 members of the security forces have been killed since the uprising against Assad’s rule broke out in March 2011.
“I estimate that at least 8,000 soldiers and members of the security forces have been killed since the beginning of the crisis,” the director, a doctor who also holds the rank of general, told AFP, on condition of not being named.
“Every day, we receive an average of 15 to 20 bodies of soldiers and members of security forces, with the numbers increasing since the beginning of the year.”
The Observatory, which says more than 25,000 people have been killed in the 17-month-old uprising, puts the figure of soldiers and members of the security forces killed at nearly 6,500.
The opposition Syrian National Council has failed to overcome internal divisions and is not up to the challenge of overthrowing President Bashar al-Assad, a prominent former member of the group has said.
Assad, in a rare television interview, said he would need more time to defeat the rebels and dismissed talk of a Western-imposed buffer zone on Syrian territory as unrealistic.
Basma Kodmani, who resigned from the Syrian National Council this week, said the group was not doing enough to back the increasingly violent 17-month-old revolt against the government in Damascus and needed to be replaced by a new political authority.
“My sense was that the SNC was not up to facing the increasing challenges on the ground and was not up to the performance I would have liked it to be,” she told Reuters in a telephone interview from Paris on Wednesday.
Kodmani, one of the few women in the SNC, headed its foreign affairs bureau. The SNC was formed in Istanbul last year to guide a democratic transition if Assad fell but has been accused by some of being dominated by Islamists.
“The groups inside the council did not all behave as one in promoting one national project,” Kodmani said. “Some have given too much attention to their own partisan agendas, some to their personal agendas sometimes. That resulted in a major weakness in connecting closely with the groups on the ground and providing the needed support in all forms.”
Britain and France said Thursday they are not ruling out any options in Syria, including a military-enforced no-fly zone to protect a safe area on the ground for thousands of people fleeing the escalating civil war.
Speaking shortly before a Security Council meeting on the humanitarian plight in Syria, Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague told a news conference that a Turkish proposal for a safe zone requires military intervention, which the deeply divided council is unlikely to endorse at the moment.
“So there are considerable difficulties with such an idea, but we are not ruling out any options for the future,” he said.
The path to agreement over a safe zone is fraught with obstacles. Both Hague and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius acknowledged that the Security Council is paralyzed on Syria and unable to agree on any action to halt the escalating civil war.
Russia and China, Syria’s most important allies, have vetoed three Western-backed resolutions in the Security Council seeking to pressure Assad’s government with the threat of sanctions, and are not likely to shift positions in the immediate future.
“We do not know how this crisis will develop ... over the coming months. It is steadily getting worse,” Hague said. “We are ruling nothing out, and we have contingency planning for a wide range of scenarios.”
Britain and France are veto-wielding members of the Security Council as well as key NATO members, and Hague was asked whether the options include a NATO-enforced no-fly zone, without Security Council authorization, as happened in Kosovo in 1999.
“We are not ruling out any options,” Hague reiterated.
Fabius added: “There is complete unity of views between France and United Kingdom on this point.”
“All the possibilities are before us,” he said when asked about the Turkish proposal. “We can’t just say yes or no off the bat. We have to discuss it.”
With the civil war intensifying and thousands of Syrians fleeing to neighboring countries, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said he will be urging the Security Council on Thursday to set up a safe zone.
The British and French ministers said Thursday’s meeting was important to spotlight the humanitarian crisis and they urged council members and the broader international community to contribute funds to help Syrian civilians inside and outside the country.
Hague announced that Britain will contribute an additional $3 million pounds ($4.7 million), to the $27 million pounds ($42.7 million) it has already given for humanitarian aid to the displaced and to refugees. Fabius announced that France was giving 5 million Euros ($6.27 million) in addition to the $20 million Euros ($25 million) it has already contributed.
Fabius, whose country holds the council presidency this month, said Britain and France believe Syrian President Bashar Assad and his clan should be held accountable for the crimes committed during the 18-month conflict.
The French minister said the two countries also want to encourage Syrians to defect and Hague urged them to do it sooner rather than later to avoid possible future war crimes prosecution.
The ministers said Britain and France are also working on plans for a transition and for a post-Assad era.
Fabius said there is a clear message to the Syrian people: “Assad will fall but we won’t drop you.”
Etihad Airways, the UAE’s national airline, said on Thursday it has suspended flights between Abu Dhabi and Damascus with immediate effect because of the deteriorating security situation in Syria.
“The decision, while not taken lightly, has been made due to the deteriorating security position in Syria,” the airline said.
“The safety of passengers and crew is paramount to the airline,” it said, adding that those passengers affected would be fully refunded for unused tickets.
Etihad said flights to the Syrian capital will remain suspended until further notice. The Etihad website said flights from Abu Dhabi to Beirut in Lebanon neighbouring Syria will continue as normal.
Last month, Royal Jordanian also suspended flights to Damascus and the northern Syrian city of Aleppo following deepening unrest in Jordan’s northern neighbour.
Upwards of 25,000 people have been killed in more than 17 months of brutal conflict in Syria, according to Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Etihad, from its hub at Abu Dhabi International Airport, flies to passenger and cargo destinations in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia and North America.

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