Syrian rebels shoot down second government helicopter in a week

A Syrian government helicopter was downed in a rural area west of Aleppo in Syria’s Idlib region, Turkish state-owned Anadolu news agency said on Friday.

Syrian rebels shot down the government helicopter today, the second in a week, as thousands continue to be displaced in the country’s northern Idlib province under bombardment from the forces of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.

Footage posted online by pro-opposition groups and activists appeared to show the government helicopter falling from the sky and turning into a ball of fire.

Activists confirmed that the helicopter was shot down in the western Aleppo countryside, where fighting continues to take place between rebels and government forces.

Turkey’s Anadolu news agency reported that the helicopter came under fire near the town of Kaptan al-Jabal as it approached Syrian rebel positions after taking off in Aleppo.

It remains unclear how the Syrian rebels shot down the helicopter – but footage posted online earlier this week showed Syrian rebels using a surface-to-air missile to shoot down a government helicopter. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that Turkey had started providing complete support to rebel groups battling pro-Assad forces, and threatened to shoot down aircraft targeting civilians in the Idlib province. 

“We will use whatever tools necessary on the ground and in the air, without any hesitation,” Erdogan said, alluding to Assad allies Iran and Russia. 

Several sources on the ground interviewed by Middle East Eye said on Tuesday that the air defense system that hit that aircraft was provided by Turkey.

A Syrian source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told MEE that Turkey had transferred a large amount of advanced anti-tank weaponry along with grad missiles to rebels in recent days.

“It is likely that the weaponry came from the US,” the source said.

A Turkish official declined to comment. 

Turkish, Russian military chiefs discuss Idlib on phone

Amid a tense situation in Idlib, Turkish and Russian military chiefs had a phone call to discuss latest developments in Idlib, a de-escalation zone in northwestern Syria, the Turkish army said on Thursday.

Turkey’s Chief of General Staff Gen. Yasar Guler and his Russian counterpart Gen. Valery Gerasimov also exchanged views on the current issues, the Turkish Armed Forces said on Twitter.

At least five Turkish troops were martyred and five injured in an attack by Assad regime forces in Idlib earlier this week.

That followed last week’s attack by regime forces in Idlib which martyred seven Turkish soldiers and one civilian contractor working with the Turkish military. It also injured more than a dozen people.

In retaliation, Turkey neutralized more than 120 Assad regime military personnel since last week.

Turkish troops are in Idlib — nominally a cease-fire zone, under a deal between Turkey and Russia — as part of an anti-terror and peace mission.

Idlib has been a stronghold of the opposition and anti-government armed groups since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

In September 2018, Turkey and Russia agreed to turn Idlib into a de-escalation zone in which acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.

But more than 1,800 civilians have been killed in attacks by regime and Russian forces since, flouting a 2018 cease-fire and a new one that began on Jan. 12.

Also, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu in Munich on Sunday on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, the Interfax news agency reported on Friday.