Syrian opposition forces, supported by Turkey, shot down a Syrian government helicopter on Tuesday over Nairab’s northwestern area, south of Idlib City, killing the two crew members on board, sources.
This comes a day after five Turkish soldiers have been killed by Syrian government forces in northwestern Syria, according to Reuters, escalating tensions across the country as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is trying for the first time since 2012 to seize control of a strategic highway connecting southern and northern Syria.
Associated Press footage showed the aircraft spiraling from the sky and breaking up as fire poured out of the fuselage, followed by the wreckage after crashing on fire.
Hours later Idlib, the provincial capital, was struck by an airstrike. Syrian Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets, said at least seven people were killed and nearly two dozen injured. The British-based news agency of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Move, an activist group, reported 12 civilians were killed in the airstrike, half of them children, and about 30 wounded.
Opposition activists said the Idlib airstrike, which is home to some 800,000 residents, was performed by government warplanes in reaction to the helicopter shooting down.
With Russia’s support, Syrian troops have been on the offensive at the last rebel stronghold in Idlib province and parts of neighboring Aleppo for weeks. The Associated Press estimated that some 700,000 people have fled their homes, rising north towards the Turkish border.
Recently, tensions in the region escalated after two separate clashes between Syrian rebels and government forces that killed 13 people, including five Turkish soldiers, on either side. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned the Syrian government in a speech Tuesday in Ankara that it would “pay a very, very heavy price” for attacks against Turkish troops.
“At the highest level, we’ve given the necessary response to the Syrian side,” Erdogan said. “We find in Idlib the trouble they’d been searching for. But that doesn’t suffice. It’ll go on.
According to the United Nations, hundreds of civilians were killed in the most recent fighting.
Nearly a quarter of the 3 million residents from Idlib and its surrounding areas have fled north over the course of the now nine-year war. Turkey, which is a major supporter of the Syrian opposition, has reportedly sent hundreds of vehicles to Idlib to prevent government forces from entering the border regions with Turkey.
The world is home to some 3.6 million Syrian refugees and worries about flooding more into its borders