Syria rebels down Russian jet, kill pilot - Taipei Times
Mon, Feb 05, 2018 - Page 4 News List

Syria rebels down Russian jet, kill pilot

RETRIBUTION:Al-Qaeda affiliate Tahrir al-Sham said the warplane was hit with a rocket to avenge the deaths of civilians in the past days and show ‘our skies are not a picnic’

Reuters, AMMAN and MOSCOW

Syrian rebels on Saturday shot down a Russian warplane and killed its pilot on the ground after he ejected from the plane, the Russian Ministry of Defense and Syrian rebels said.

The Sukhoi Su-25 fighter jet came down in an area of the northern Idlib Governatorate that has seen heavy airstrikes and fighting on the ground between the Syrian Army backed by Russia and Iran, and rebel groups opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Syrians opposed to al-Assad see Russia as an invading force that they blame for the deaths of thousands of civilians since Moscow joined the war on the side of the government in 2015.

The US Department of State said that it had seen reports about the incident and allegations that the US provided missiles to groups in Syria.

“The United States has never provided MANPAD missiles to any group in Syria, and we are deeply concerned that such weapons are being used,” department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said. “The solution to the violence is a return to the Geneva process as soon as possible and we call on Russia to live up to its commitments in that regards.”

The Russian plane was shot down over the town of Khan al-Subl near the city of Saraqeb, close to a major highway where the Syrian army and Iranian-backed militias are trying to advance, a rebel source said.

Although the Russian pilot escaped the crash, he was killed by rebels who had tried to capture him, the source said.

Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a militant group spearheaded by the former Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for shooting down the plane on social media, saying that one of its fighters had scored a direct hit with a shoulder launched anti-aircraft missile.

“This work is the least we can do to revenge our people. Let the criminal invaders know that our skies are not a picnic and they will not pass through without paying a price, God willing,” HTS senior commander Mahmoud Turkomani said in a statement released by the group.

The Russian defense ministry also said that the aircraft was downed by a portable surface-to-air missile.

The pilot reported that he had ejected by parachute, but he was later killed on the ground, it said.

“The pilot died in a fight with terrorists,” the ministry said.

The TASS news agency quoted the ministry as saying that Moscow retaliated with a strike from an undisclosed high-precision weapon that killed more than 30 militants in an area of Idlib where the plane was downed.

The Syrian opposition released footage on social media that purported to show the wreckage of the plane and the body of the pilot surrounded by fighters.

Rebels said the downed warplane had taken part in strikes that targeted civilian convoys fleeing along a major Syrian highway from villages that the army and foreign militias had overrun.

The Syrian civil war, which is now entering its eighth year, has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven more than 11 million from their homes.

A Russian plane was blamed for the death of seven civilians and scores of injuries after cars were targeted on the highway, a witness and two rebel sources said.

Syrian soldiers and Iranian-backed militia were now about 12km from Saraqeb, advancing toward the Damascus-Aleppo highway under cover of heavy Russian air strikes, two opposition sources said.

At least five civilians were on Saturday killed in Saraqeb, which residents blamed on Russian planes.

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