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Assad regime helicopter shot down in northwest Syria, killing two pilots: monitor

A Syrian military helicopter was also downed earlier in the week [AFP/Getty]

Date of publication: 14 February, 2020

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An aircraft has been downed over the western countryside of Aleppo province, a war monitor said, in the second such incident this week.
A Syrian military helicopter was shot down over the last major rebel bastion in northwest Syria on Friday, killing two pilots, in the second such incident this week.

State media confirmed the incident. "At approximately 13:40 (1140 GMT), one of our military helicopters was hit by a hostile missile in the western countryside of Aleppo," SANA said.

"This led the helicopter to crash, killing all crew on board."

SANA said the aircraft was downed near the town of Urum al-Kubra where Turkey-backed rebels operate, but it did not say who was behind the incident. 

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also said the aircraft was downed over the western countryside of Aleppo province where regime forces have scored major gains against rebels in recent weeks.

The Britain-based monitor blamed the attack on rebel-backer Turkey but there was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Turkey's state-run Anadolu agency also reported the incident, but did not say who was responsible or if there were any casualties. 

Meanwhile, a senior US State Department official said Friday that tensions between Turkey and Russia over Syria should prompt Ankara to move closer to the West, especially Washington.

Despite a Moscow-Ankara de-escalation deal, the Syrian regime has pushed an assault with Russian air support in the northwestern province of Idlib controlled by rebel groups.

The issue threatens the rapprochement between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin following a diplomatic crisis in 2015.

"Certainly we would like to see Turkey more directly and clearly aligned with NATO, the United States, the West, in recognition of the very destructive role that the Russians are playing regionally, including right now in Syria," the US official said.

First incident

A similar incident occured earlier this week when a Syrian regime helicopter was shot down by anti-regime forces in Idlib, killing at least three crew members.

A video on social media showed a military helicopter in flames and crashing towards the ground, with activists saying the incident took part close to Nayrab on Tuesday.

The helicopter appears to be a Russian-made Mi-24, according to war reporter Kyle Glen.

Other weapons experts speculate that the aircraft could be a Russian Mi-8, which has been used for barrel bombings - an indiscriminate war tactic employed by the Syrian regime which has killed thousands of Syrian civilians.

Read more: Syrian pilot of downed helicopter 'took selfies with Soleimani'

It was not clear whether the helicopter belonged to Russia or the Syrian regime, who have been responsible for the mass killing of civilians in Idlib province through bombing in recent weeks.

It is also not clear whether Syrian rebels or the Turkish military shot down the aircraft.

Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad lost huge swathes of the country following an armed uprising after the brutal repression of peaceful protesters in 2011.

With the support of Russia and Iran, loyalist forces have managed to claw back most of the opposition territories but Idlib still remains in rebel hands.

The province is home to around three million people, many of whom were displaced by previous military offensives elsewhere in the country.

Read also: WATCH: Pro-Assad forces caught 'desecrating graves and exhuming corpses' in Idlib

According to the United Nations, close to 700,000 people have been forced to flee violence since the start of December, one of the biggest waves of displacement since the start of the war.

Whole cities and towns have been emptied in the regime offensive in Idlib, with thousands of refugees living in makeshift shelters or out in the open along the Turkey border, which remains closed.

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