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Syrian rebel group claim downing of Russian plane

The Su-25 bomber was shot down over Idlib province [AFP]

Date of publication: 4 February, 2018

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Syrian rebel coalition Hayat Tahrir al-Sham have said they shot down a Russian warplane over Idlib province, but did not say how the pilot died.
Syrian rebel alliance Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) has said its fighters were responsible for downing a Russian military plane over Idlib province Saturday, but did not mention how the pilot died.

The group said it shot down the Russian Su-25 aircraft in revenge for Moscow's ruthless bombing of the rebel-held province.

"We were able to bring down the Russian warplane with a shoulder-fired missile above Saraqib in Idlib this afternoon," said Mahmoud al-Turkmani who heads HTS' "air defence brigade", AFP reported.

HTS - which is led by Syria's former al-Qaeda affiliate - used an affiliated media channel to broadcast the statement.

It did not mention the fate of the pilot who was shot dead during an attempt to capture him.

Reports emerged Saturday of the downing of the Russian jet over an area in Idlib believed to be controlled by HTS, which has been heavily bombed in recent days.

Images have shown the charred remains of the aircraft, while others featured the body of the pilot.

Witnesses said that the Russian pilot was shot dead at the scene after he fired on the rebel fighters who had arrived to capture him. Others claimed the man was executed.

Russia confirmed the plane crash and the killing of the pilot. 

"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," the defence ministry said.

"The pilot was killed in fighting against terrorists", Russian agencies added.

Russia's defence ministry claimed the plan was shot down using "a portable anti-aircraft missile system".

Syrian opposition calls for rebels to be armed with anti-aircraft missiles have been ignored by the US due to fears the weapons might fall into the hands of extremists.

Washington has frequently denied it has provided MANPAD missile launchers to the rebels.

Russia launched airstrikes on Syrian opposition areas in September 2015, helping Bashar al-Assad's forces turn the tide of the war in their favour.

Thousands of civilians have been killed in the bombing, while hospitals, schools, and markets have been targeted in air strikes.

On Saturday, Syrian opposition media reported air strikes on a convoy of refugees in Idlib province.

Hundreds have been killed in joint Syrian regime and Russian airstrikes in Idlib province during heavy bombardments in recent weeks.

Pro-Assad forces recently launched an offensive on the opposition province, which fell to the rebels in 2015.

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