Syria

Syrian Defector Says Most Bomber Pilots Grounded

Only a third are still loyal to Assad

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A former Syrian air force general who was also the country's first astronaut said Tuesday that only about one-third of Syria's fighter pilots are carrying out the daily bombing raids of rebel strongholds because President Bashar Assad's regime cannot count on the loyalty of the rest.

Maj. Gen. Mohammed Fares, who defected in August and joined the main umbrella group for regime opponents, the Syrian National Council, also said the regime's combat aircraft are aging and running short of spare parts, but that Assad still has hundreds of planes at his disposal.

"He (Assad) can still continue bombing," the 61-year-old Fares said on the sidelines of a SNC conference in the Qatari capital, Doha.