Russia airstrike 'kills 30 militants' after warplane downed in Syria
The pilot of the Russian plane was killed after he opened fire on militants
Russia said an airstrike left more than 30 militants dead in an area of Syria’s Idlib province after one of its warplanes was brought down on Saturday and its pilot killed, according to reports.
The pilot of the Russia Su-25 died in a fight with militants after ejecting by parachute and opening fire on militants from an Al Qaeda-linked group when they tried to capture him alive, according to Syrian monitors and a militant.
The warplane came down near the rebel-held town of Saraqeb, which Syrian troops have been trying to take under the cover of Russian air strikes. The death of the pilot was confirmed by Russian news agency TASS which quoted the defence ministry as saying that 30 militants had been killed in the strike.
A video circulating on social media showed 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.
Russia is a key ally of President Bashar Assad, and has been waging a military campaign on behalf of his forces since 2015.
Since then, Syrian government forces have captured wide parts of the country and in recent weeks have been marching in the rebel-held north-western province of Idlib.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights had reported more than 35 air strikes on Saraqeb since late Friday and many of its residents were fleeing.
Syria's state news agency, Sana, said Syrian troops captured the village of Maasaran as well as the Tel Tokan hill, cutting links between Saraqeb and the rebel-stronghold of Maarest Al Numan to the south.
In recent weeks, Syrian government forces and their allies pushed into Idlib, an opposition stronghold, inching closer to a key road 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 December 15.
The violence in Idlib came as fighting raged between Turkish troops and Turkey-backed opposition gunmen with Syrian Kurdish fighters in the northern Syrian enclave of Afrin.
The Turkish military said two of its soldiers were killed in Syria and a third was killed on the Turkish side of the border in an attack by Syrian Kurdish militiamen.
The military said Saturday's deaths were related to Turkey's operation against the Syrian Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin, code named Olive Branch. One of the soldiers was killed when a Turkish tank was hit in Afrin.
A total of eight Turkish soldiers and at least 24 allied Syrian opposition fighters have died so far in Ankara's offensive, which started on January 20.
The Turkish operation aims to clear Afrin of the US-backed Syrian Kurdish militia, known as the People's Protection Units or YPG, which Turkey considers to be a terrorist group and an extension of the Kurdish insurgency within its borders.
Updated: February 4, 2018 02:17 PM