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Regional group votes to suspend Syria; rebels claim downing of jet

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 1:14 AM EDT, Tue August 14, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: At least 114 people were killed in Syria on Monday, an opposition group says
  • Video shows a jet catching fire; the government says "technical failure" caused crash
  • Rebels claimed they shot down the military jet
  • A Syrian envoy will visit China on Tuesday; China considers inviting the opposition

(CNN) -- Foreign ministers of Islamic countries have agreed to suspend Syria from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a non-binding vote that sets the stage for the group's two-day emergency summit in Saudi Arabia.

Syria is one of the main items on the agenda of the Mecca meeting, which opens Tuesday. The ministers met in Jeddah ahead of the summit.

"There is an agreement to support the Syrian people and standing by their side, we are agreeing on freezing the membership of Syria until it retains its balance," Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafiq Abdul Salam said, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

The heads of state must approve the suspension before it can take effect.

Children killed in bus attack in Syria

The move by the foreign ministers came after Syrian rebels claimed one of their biggest achievements yet -- the shooting down of a military jet.

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. "God is great!"

The government denied the jet was shot down, blaming the crash instead on a "technical failure." It said the jet fighter was on an "ordinary training flight" and that the pilot ejected safely.

The search for the pilot was still under way late Monday, according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA)

A few hours after the rebels made their claim, the opposition Local Coordinating Committees of Syria posted a video showing what it said was the pilot, whom it identified as Col. Mufeed Mohamad Suleiman. No identification card was shown.

The man -- dressed in civilian clothes and surrounded by armed men -- called on other military officers to defect.

He said the rebels had provided first aid to treat the bruises on his face that he suffered in the 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.

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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.

The United Nations announced Monday that Valerie Amos, its under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, will visit Damascus and Beirut, Lebanon, starting Tuesday.

"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 United Nations said.

Al-Assad's inner circle, mostly family, like 'mafia'

A report Monday from opposition activists underscored the difficulty in resolving the Syrian crisis. It said Syrian forces in Damascus had publicly executed at least 10 people in one town, and that residents were unable to reach the bodies because "regime forces have been firing at anything that moves," the Local Coordination Committees said.

At least 114 people were killed across Syria on Monday, including 66 in and around Damascus, 15 in Daraa, and 17 in Homs, the LCC said.

Daraa is where the anti-government protests began in March last year. Nearby, helicopters shelled the southern town of Tafas, and regime forces prevented residents from fleeing, the LCC said.

SANA reported Monday that Syrian armed forces had killed "a large number of mercenary terrorists" in the opposition stronghold of Homs.

U.S. slaps new sanctions on Syria, extends those against Hezbollah

The United Nations estimated Monday that 2 million people have been affected by the fighting 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 exclusive: Inside Syria

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

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