A Syrian regime helicopter crashed in rural Aleppo on Friday, reportedly shot down by rebel fighters just three days after a similar incident killed an Mi-17 crew.
The Syrian defense ministry confirmed that the crew of one of its helicopters were killed after being struck by a missile in the western Aleppo countryside.
Videos of the SAA helicopter falling out of the sky and the crash site were posted to social media along with claims that Turkey-backed rebels had shot down the helicopter with a MANPADS, a shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile system.
The Turkey-backed National Front for Liberation group, which since October has fought under the banner of the Syrian National Army, later said it shot down the helicopter with a MANPADS, killing three crew.
SANA said that Syrian Arab Army forces were carrying out operations in the al-Rashidin area of western Aleppo. The downed helicopter was providing air support, Russian state media agency Sputnik reported.
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The helicopter is the second to be shot down this week after a Russian-made Mi-17 helicopter was downed by a rocket fired from Idlib province on Tuesday, also reportedly by rebel fighters. All three crew members were killed, state news agency SANA reported.
It’s unclear where the rebels obtained the weapons. There are a number of Turkey-backed factions opposed to Bashar al-Assad’s forces fighting in the northwest enclave, which is also dominated by the jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.
Turkey has bolstered its military presence in the area over the last week with additional commandoes and vehicles, and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed this week to retaliate after Turkish troops were killed in two separate incidents in the northwest.
Five Turkish soldiers were killed Monday by regime artillery fire near an outpost in Idlib, while seven were killed a week earlier when pro-regime fighters clashed with Turkish forces near the town of Saraqeb, east of Idlib city.
Erdogan said Wednesday that regime “aircraft that target civilian residential areas won’t be able to move freely any longer.”
“We provide every sort of support to our Syrian brothers who started to move to push the regime out of the Sochi line,” he said, referring to the so-called de-escalation line agreed with Russia, Assad’s key backer. That agreement has fallen apart in recent days as the regime closes in on the last pocket of rebel-held territory in Syria after nine years of civil war.
If Turkey is providing the rebels with anti-aircraft weapons, it could pose a serious hazard to regime aircraft.
The attacks come as the Syrian army pushes forward with an offensive into Idlib province, home to three million people, half displaced from other parts of the country during nearly nine years of civil war, although hundreds of thousands – mostly women and children – have fled in recent days.
The United Nations says that more than 1,700 civilians have killed in the de-escalation zone in northwest Syria since the regime offensive began in April 2019.