By AFP – Feb 03,2018 – JORDAN TIMES
This photo taken on Saturday shows smoke billows from the site of a downed Sukhoi-25 fighter jet in the Syrian city of Saraqib, southwest of Aleppo (AFP photo)
BEIRUT — A Russian pilot was killed on Saturday in clashes with hardline rebels after they downed his warplane over Syria’s northwest province of Idlib, a monitor said.
“The pilot was killed as he fought Islamist rebels who had shot down his plane and were taking him captive,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights chief Rami Abdel Rahman.
The Russian pilot was killed on the ground in Syria on Saturday after parachuting into rebel-held territory when his plane was downed, the Russian defence ministry said.
“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,” the ministry said, quoted by Russian agencies.
“The pilot was killed in fighting against terrorists.”
It added that “according to preliminary reports, the plane was shot down by a portable anti-aircraft missile system”.
The Russian army claimed it had killed “more than 30 Al Nusra Front fighters” during a strike with “high-precision weapons” in the area where the plane was shot down.
Abdel Rahman could not immediately confirm which hardline factions were involved but said the Sukhoi 25 was downed in an area where the extremist Hayat Tahrir Al Sham (HTS), an extremist outfit dominated by Al Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate, is active.
“Rebel factions shot down a Sukhoi 25. The Russian pilot came down in a parachute, before being captured,” said Abdel Rahman.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
Syrian troops launched a fierce offensive on Idlib in late December, with backing by Russian warplanes.
“There have been dozens of Russian air strikes in the area over the past 24 hours. This plane was also carrying out raids there,” said Abdel Rahman.
Forces supporting president Bashar Assad’s regime, backed by Russia, launched an offensive at the end of December to recapture the southeastern province of Idlib, the last enclave completely out of Damascus’s control.
Opposition factions have shot Syrian regime planes in the past, but downing Russian warplanes is much rarer.
In August 2016, a Russian military helicopter was shot down over Syria and all five people on board were killed.
Moscow began conducting air strikes in Syria in September 2015.
Two months later, Turkey shot down a Russian warplane, leading to the worst crisis in ties between the two countries since the end of the Cold War.