Syria: Russian warplane shot down and pilot killed on ground by rebels in Sarqeb

Jet brought down in north-east of country, where government had launched major offensive supported by Russian air strikes

Tom Barnes
Saturday 03 February 2018 16:40
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Russian warplane 'shot down and pilot captured' by Syrian rebels

Syrian rebels have killed a Russian pilot after his plane was shot down in the country's north-west.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the pilot was killed after landing alive on the ground near the rebel-held town of Sarqeb, in Idlib province.

Syrian troops have been trying to reach the town under the cover of Russian air strikes.

The Russian Defence Ministry said one of its aircrafts had been downed during operations in Syria and its pilot was dead.

Tahrir al-Sham, a jihadi group linked to a former al-Qaeda branch in Syria, claimed responsibility for downing the jet using a shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missile.

A Syrian militant in the area told AP the Russian pilot was shot and killed by rebels when he resisted capture by opening fire from his pistol on the militants who tried to capture him alive.

The downed aircraft, a Sukhoi 25 jet, is used by Russian forces for close air support.

Russia is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad and has been waging a military campaign on behalf of his forces since 2015.

Since then, Syrian government forces have captured wide parts of the country and in recent weeks, but Idlib remains a stronghold for rebels.

Rebel groups, including Tahrir al-Sham, are known to be operating in the region.

Government forces launched a major offensive in Idlib last December, which was supported by Russian air strikes.

Earlier in the day, the observatory and the media arm of al-Qaeda linked militants both reported intense air strikes on the rebel-held stronghold.

The observatory said there had been more than 35 air strikes on Saraqeb since late Friday, adding that many of its residents were fleeing the town.

The UN says more than 270,000 have been displaced in Idlib because of the government onslaught.

Additional reporting by AP

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