Syria rebels shoot down Russian jet, kill pilot – monitor

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Syrian opposition fighters downed a Russian warplane near the town of Maaret al-Numan in the northwestern province of Idlib on Saturday, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. 

“Rebel factions shot down a Sukhoi 25. The Russian pilot came down in a parachute, before being captured,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, who runs the monitoring group.

Read more: UN warns of humanitarian disaster, displacement in northwest Syria

However, it later emerged that the Russian pilot had been killed by rebel fighters after he resisted capture by opening fire with his pistol. “The pilot was killed as he fought Islamist rebels who had shot down his plane and were taking him captive,” Rahman said.

Moscow also confirmed that the pilot had been killed. “A Russian Su-25 aircraft crashed during a flight over the Idlib de-escalation zone. The pilot had enough time to announce he had ejected into the zone, under the control of al-Nusra Front fighters,” Russia’s Defense Ministry said. “The pilot was killed in fighting against terrorists.”

A video making the rounds on social media showed a dead man with a bloodied face with bearded gunmen gathered around him. One of the men can be heard shouting “He is Russian.” The authenticity of the video could not be independently verified.

Rahman said he was unable to confirm which rebel faction shot down the plane, with several opposition forces and the jihadi Hayat Tahrir al-Sham group still active in Idlib.

No group immediately claimed responsibility.

Last IS bastion

The incident comes as Syrian government forces, backed by Russian air support and Iranian arms, have intensified their offensive into Idlib. The province is one of the last rebel-held bastions in Syria. It is also host to several Islamist groups affiliated with al-Qaida. 

“There have been dozens of Russian air strikes in the area over the past 24 hours,” according to Rahman. “This plane was also carrying out raids there.”

The Syrian regime launched its offensive against Idlib from the south and east in December last year. 

Last month the Syrian army retook the strategic Abu Dhuhur airbase from insurgents in Idlib. 

According to Jan Egeland, who heads the UN’s task force on humanitarian aid for Syria, almost a quarter of a million people have been displaced into or from Idlib since the latest onslaught began less than two months ago.

dm/ng (dpa, AFP)

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