Syrian rebels down jet, take video of bloodied pilot

Syrian men inspect the scene of a car bomb explosion in Jaramana, a suburb of Damascus, on November 28, 2012.

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Story highlights

  • Rebels say they downed a Syrian fighter jet, footage shows them bandaging pilot
  • At least 45 dead in blasts in loyalist village near Damascus, opposition group says
  • Fact-finding team on ground in Turkey, which borders Syria
  • The small town of Jaramana has been a haven for pro-government Syrians

Syrian rebels appear to have scored a major victory Wednesday.

Fighters who have been trying for nearly two years to topple President Bashar al-Assad and his sizeable military tell CNN that they have shot down three military aircraft in the past 24 hours in the city of Aleppo.

Rebels posted two videos online to support their claims, including footage showing them bandaging a bloodied and moaning pilot.

CNN's Arwa Damon is inside Syria and went to the scene of one of the crashes.

She said locals rushed to the site and picked apart the aircraft, stuffing its parts in bags. Damon and her crew saw what appeared to be an engine on a cart hooked to a tractor. Cheering children were piled on the tractor as it drove away.

Other video shows rebels carrying an unconscious man wearing what looks like a military pilot uniform. Off-camera, someone says, "Here is the pilot who was shelling houses of civilians! The heroes of Darret Ezza shot down his plane!"

The video of the downed helicopters could be related to rebels seizing a key Syrian Air Force headquarters more than a week ago. The Assad regime has depended on the Air Force for much of the war to fight the rebels.

    Video appears to show rebels coming upon a large cache of missiles at this particular headquarters, which CNN believes belongs to the Air Force 46th brigade. The rebels told Damon there were about 300 missiles in total, but only about half of them are operable. Many of them could be Soviet-era, and al-Assad kept the tube and trigger component of those weapons in separate locations to prevent their use should they wind up in the hands of his enemies. About half of the weapons, however, appear to work and the rebels told Damon they intend to use them.

    Rebels also apparently posted a video of them demonstrating how to use the operable weapons.

    Meanwhile, in another major incident in the country's capital Damascus, at least 45 people died and 120 were wounded in two car bombings in Jaramana, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Wednesday. The Interior Ministry had conflicting numbers, reporting 34 dead and 83 injured.

    Women and children were among those killed, the observatory said.

    Jaramana, a small town surrounded by fields, has provided a refuge for pro-government Syrians displaced in the civil war.

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    The Local Coordination Committees of Syria reported a nationwide death toll of 90 for Wednesday, including the people it said were killed in Jaramana.

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    State media did not give a nationwide toll.

    At the same time the car bombs went off, two explosive devices simultaneously detonated in the al-Nahda and al-Qerayyat neighborhoods, both of which are in the Damascus suburbs. Officials did not provide a casualty count in those areas.

    Jaramana residents are a mix of Christians and the Druze, the latter a minority offshoot of Shiite Islam.

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    Government officials blamed the attacks on terrorists, a term Syria routinely uses for rebel fighters and extremist elements in the country.

    How did the Syrian crisis begin?

    What started as security forces cracking down on mostly nonviolent protesters has spiraled into a civil war between pro-government forces and the rebels, including the Free Syrian Army.

    About 40,000 civilians have been killed since the first protests 20 months ago against President Bashar al-Assad's government, according to the opposition Center for Documentation of Violations in Syria. And more than 380,000 Syrian refugees have fled to neighboring countries, creating humanitarian challenges abroad.

    CNN cannot confirm claims by the government or the opposition because of government restrictions that prevent journalists from reporting freely within Syria.

    Turkey's role

    Turkey asked NATO Wednesday for Patriot missiles to bolster its air defenses against its southern neighbor, with which it shares a 822-kilometer (about 511-mile) border.

    A letter to NATO included the "formal request" that the alliance send "air defense elements," according to a Turkish government statement that cited "the threats and risks posed by the continuing crisis in Syria to our national security."

    The statement added that the NATO Council would convene "shortly" to consider the matter.

    NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a Twitter post that the request would be considered without delay. A fact-finding team is on the ground in Turkey, according to Lt. Col. Jay Janzen, a spokesman for Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe.

    "The fact-finding teams include experts from the nations that have shown their willingness to offer Patriots as well as Turkish officials and a few NATO experts," he said.

    Turkish officials have emphasized that any deployment of the Patriot missiles would be purely for defensive measures. President Abdullah Gul said earlier this month that Turkey has no intention of going to war with Syria.

    A NATO official who is not authorized to speak on record to the media told CNN that fact-finding team now in Turkey includes military personnel from Germany, the United States and Holland, the three countries that have available Patriot missile batteries.

    The official also indicated that those batteries could be deployed dozens of kilometers away from the border fence.

    "No decisions have been made about the location and numbers of Patriot batteries in Turkey," the official said.

    The official said he doesn't believe "there will be an imminent threat from this deployment escalating the conflict between Turkey and Syria."

    "By contrast, I think it will demonstrate a deterrence effect," the official said, "and make it clear that NATO is prepared to defend Turkish territory and Turkish population."