AMMAN (Reuters) - Western-backed Syrian rebels said they had shot down a Syrian military jet on Tuesday and captured its pilot in a desert area in southern Syria near the border with Jordan, where the army had recently advanced and seized border posts.
Saad al Haj, spokesman for the Osoud al Sharqiya rebel group leader, told Reuters the rebels had shot down the Russian-built MiG using anti-aircraft guns in the eastern countryside of Sweida province.
Haj, whose group is one of two major rebel groups operating in the area, said the pilot was captured and was being interrogated. He could not say if the pilot had been injured.
The eastern countryside of Sweida province borders Jordan in a front where the Syrian army, alongside Iranian-backed militias, had established control last Thursday over checkpoints and border posts. [L5N1KW4Q9]
Sweida province was not included in a U.S.-Russian brokered ceasefire that took effect in nearby areas of the southwest in July.
Syrian officials could not immediately be reached for comment. Reuters could not independently confirm a plane had been downed.
Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels who get support from a command room in Jordan run by Arab and Western backers of the insurgency say fighting continues in the area to try to regain lost ground.
They blamed recent losses on the sudden retreat by a Jordanian-backed tribal militia known as Jaish al Ashair that had patrolled the border area.
This had allowed the army to quickly overrun the border posts and establish a presence in a border strip abandoned in the early years of the conflict.
Last June Osoud al Sharqiya said a military jet had come down about 50 kms east of Damascus in a rebel-held territory near a frontline with army troops. Videos on social media were released of the remains of the pilot and wreckage said to be that of the warplane.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Richard Balmforth)