Five die as Russian aid helicopter shot down over Syria

This picture posted online is said to show Syrian rebels gathering around the wreckage of the downed Russian Mi-8 military transport helicopter. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

This picture posted online is said to show Syrian rebels gathering around the wreckage of the downed Russian Mi-8 military transport helicopter. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

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A Russian military helicopter has been shot down in Syria killing all five people on board in the deadliest single incident for Russia’s military since its air campaign began last September.

The Mi-8 transporter was brought down by rebels, Russia says, in northern Idlib province. It was returning from delivering humanitarian aid to the besieged city of Aleppo, the defence ministry said.

They died heroically because they tried to move the aircraft away so to minimise losses on the ground

Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov

“From what we know from information provided by the Defence Ministry, all those who were on the helicopter died,” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said. Dmitry Peskov said the Russians “died heroically because they tried to move the aircraft away so to minimise losses on the ground”.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack on the helicopter, which was carrying three crew and two officers.

An alliance of forces, including hardline jihadist factions, is the dominant power in Idlib.

Jabhat Fateh al-Sham is among those active in the province, and Islamic State has vowed to carry out jihad against Russian forces.

Pictures on social media, purportedly of the latest Russian helicopter downing, showed burning wreckage and bodies, with armed men milling around.

Footage showed at least one body being dragged away. Another is seen apparently being trampled on.

Moscow said the helicopter was not involved in a military mission, but was delivering humanitarian aid.

Russia has previously lost aircraft since it launched operations in support of the Syrian government at the end of September 2015.

In July, two Russian pilots were killed when their helicopter was shot down east of the city of Palmyra by so-called Islamic State.

Last November, the pilot of a Russian Su-24 fighter plane was killed when the aircraft was shot down by Turkey on its border with Syria.

A Russian marine sent on a mission to rescue the pilot was also killed when his helicopter was shot down.

Russia is a key backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and is supporting pro-government forces with air strikes on rebels.

Government forces cut off rebel-held eastern parts of Aleppo last month.

A tail section from the helicopter appeared to have broken off after the aircraft was struck

Russia and Syria announced the opening of what they called humanitarian corridors for civilians and rebels wanting to surrender, but few people are reported to have used them, fearing they would be targeted.

Opposition activists have dismissed Russian claims that 160 civilians had left rebel-held districts as a lie.

The United Nations has warned that basic supplies for the around a quarter of a million people who live in besieged areas will last only three weeks.

On Sunday, rebel groups south of Aleppo launched a push to try to break the siege, in what observers said was one of the biggest counter-offensives in months.

The UN estimates that 300,000 people are still trapped in the rebel section of Aleppo, with dwindling food and medical supplies.

The UN’s special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, warned on Friday that basic supplies in eastern Aleppo could run out in three weeks.

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