Syrian rebels down purported Russian warplane; pilot dead
Moscow did not confirm the downing of its plane or the killing of a pilot in Syria. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Russian pilot was dead but had no further details.
A Syrian militant in the area told AP that the Russian pilot was shot and killed when he resisted capture by opening fire from his pistol on the militants who tried to seize him alive. The militant refused to be identified by his real name because was not authorised to speak to the media.
A video circulating on social media shows a lifeless body of a man, his face stained with blood, as bearded gunmen stand around him. One of the armed men shouts: “He is Russian.” The authenticity of the video could not be independently confirmed but it corresponded to events reported by the AP.
"Rebel factions shot down a Sukhoi 25. The Russian pilot came down in a parachute, before being captured," said earlier Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
He could not immediately confirm which faction had shot down the warplane but hardline opposition factions and the extremist Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) are active in the area.Russian warplanes earlier hit a convoy of civilians fleeing along a major Syrian highway, rescuers and a witness told Reuters on Saturday.
It took place in an area where Syrian and Iranian-backed troops were pushing, with air cover, towards a rebel-held town in northwestern Idlib province.
Syrian soldiers and Iranian-backed militiamen were now around twelve kilometres from Saraqib, advancing towards the Damascus-Aleppo highway under cover of heavy Russian airstrikes, two opposition sources told Reuters.
Rescuers said at least seven civilians were pulled out of the wreckage of cars after the air strikes on Friday.
“We believe two Russian planes struck the convoy of civilians on the highway and left at least seven killed and twelve injured, mostly elderly and children,” said Ammar al Adnan, a civil defence worker from Saraqib.
A Syrian monitoring group had reported intense airstrikes on the rebel-held stronghold in Syria’s northwest.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported more than 35 airstrikes on Saraqib since late Friday, adding that many of its residents are fleeing.
The Ibaa News Agency of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, said Russian and Syrian warplanes and helicopter gunships have been pounding Saraqib and Tel Mardeekh village in Idlib province since the early hours of Saturday.
Syrian government forces and their allies pushed into Idlib, an opposition stronghold, inching closer to a key highway that connects Syria’s two largest cities, Damascus and Aleppo.
The UN says more than 270,000 have been displaced in Idlib because of the government onslaught since Dec. 15.
A major Syrian army offensive, begun earlier this year in southern Aleppo and eastern Idlib, has allowed it to take control of a large amount of territory from rebel forces.