| 04.02,18. 08:57 AM |
Russian jet shot down and pilot killed by Al Qaeda-linked militants in Syria
Photo: Sukhoi Su-25 jet fighters perform during the International Army Games in 2016. (Reuters: Maxim Shemetov)
Al Qaeda-linked militants in Syria have downed a Russian fighter jet, killing its pilot after he ejected from the plane and landed on the ground in the embattled north-western province of Idlib.
The pilot resisted being captured and fired at the militants who then shot and killed him, according to one of the militants and Syrian monitors.
The Russian Defence Ministry confirmed the downing of the Su-25 and said the pilot was killed in fighting with "terrorists".
A report on the ministry's Zvezda TV said preliminary information indicated the plane was shot by a portable ground-to-air missile in an area under control of Al Qaeda's branch in Syria.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the plane was downed on Saturday afternoon local time near the rebel-held town of Sarqeb, which Syrian troops have been trying to take under the cover of Russian airstrikes.
A Russian strike from an undisclosed high-precision weapon killed more than 30 militants in the area where the Russian plane was downed, TASS news agency quoted Russia's Defence Ministry as saying.
At least five civilians were killed in a bombing of rebel-held Saraqeb city, which residents blamed on Russian jets.
The Observatory reported more than 35 airstrikes on Saraqeb since late on Friday, adding that 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.
Syrian Government forces and their allies launched a push into Idlib six weeks ago, inching closer to a key highway that connects Syria's two largest cities, Damascus and Aleppo.
Russia is a key ally of President Bashar al-Assad, and has been waging a military campaign on behalf of his forces since 2015.
Russia's Defence Ministry regularly says it targets only hardline Islamist militants in Syria.
Meanwhile, fighting raged on Saturday between Turkish troops and allied Syrian opposition fighters, and a Syrian Kurdish militia 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.
Syria's civil war, now entering its eighth year, has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven more than 11 million from their homes.