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Syrian pilot being treated at hospital in Turkey as probe begins

Turkey says it will decide in the next few days whether to return the pilot, a colonel in the Syrian air force
Still image taken from video shows men holding mobile phones standing near the wreckage of a warplane that crashed on the Turkish side of the border with Syria (Reuters)

A Syrian air force pilot who bailed out as his warplane crashed on Turkish territory has been found by a Turkish rescue team and is being treated at a hospital in the Hatay region, a hospital spokeswoman said on Sunday.

Dogan news agency said the pilot, who crashed his plane on Sunday, had been found around 40km from the wreckage. He was first taken to a gendarmerie base and then to hospital.

The 56-year-old pilot was identified as Mehmet Sufhan by medical staff at the hospital, and they said he was not in critical condition despite some fractures in his spine.

Television footage showed security measures had been taken around and inside the hospital.

Russian experts are currently at the site of the crash in Turkish territory examining the debris.

Turkish deputy prime minister Nurettin Canikli said on Sunday that Ankara will decide in the next few days whether to return the pilot once investigations are complete.

Syrian state television quoted an army source on Saturday saying the air force had lost contact with a fighter jet on a mission near the Turkish border. It gave no details.

It was unclear why the aircraft had crashed, whether it had been attacked or suffered technical failure.

However, Syrian opposition group Ahrar al-Sham claimed it had shot down a MiG-21 jet on Saturday.

Combat operations by many militia and government forces come close to Turkey's long frontier with Syria.

Turkey has been one of the foremost critics of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and supports rebels fighting him in the country's six-year-old war. It currently has armed forces involved in operations along the Syrian side of the frontier.

Syrian state media said on Saturday its forces had been expanding control over former Islamic State-held villages in northwest Syria, an area close to Turkey's Hatay region where the aircraft crashed.

The army's gains follow a push to the south and east of the city of al-Bab, which was captured by Turkish-backed rebels late last month.

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