BEIRUT (AP) – A government helicopter was shot down and its crew killed on Friday in northwest Syria, where a military offensive against opposition fighters is taking place, said a Syrian military official and activist.
Videos posted online show a helicopter spiraling down from the sky, leaving flames behind as spectators cheer.
A military official informed the Syrian state media that the helicopter was hit by an “enemy missile” in the western Aleppo province. The nameless officer said the helicopter crashed and its crew were killed.
It was the second time this week that a government helicopter was shot down in northwest Syria. Another government helicopter ship was shot down near the village of Nairab three days earlier.
A Syrian military offensive in the region is trying to uproot opposition fighters from the last area they hold.
The UK-based Syrian Human Rights Observatory, which has a network of local activists, said the helicopter was shot down in Qibtan al-Jebel village north of Aleppo on Friday. It was said that two crew members were killed and their bodies were found near the crash site.
It was not clear who shot the helicopter or how. The insurgents were believed to be behind the crash of a helicopter on Tuesday that killed the two-man crew.
The observatory said the helicopter was shot down on Friday by Turkish forces stationed in the opposition-held region. There was no immediate comment from Turkey.
The Turkish state agency Anadolu only said that a helicopter was shot down by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s armed forces in the western Aleppo countryside.
The agency said the helicopter was launched from an area near downtown Aleppo during “clashes between opposition and regime forces” and was fired on from the Qibtan al-Jabal region. The agency said it was seen crashing and releasing a cloud of smoke.
Insurgents have tried to purchase portable defense systems to target government fighter jets, and have often acquired them from confiscated stocks or from outside supporters.
Turkey, which supports the Syrian opposition, has deployed equipment and troops in the region, where more than 3 million people live, to halt the progress of the Syrian military. The enlarged Turkish footprint has also led to confrontations with Syrian troops, and clashes between the two sides have killed 13 Turkish military personnel and 13 Syrian troops.
The violence has displaced 800,000 people in one of the largest single waves of displacement since December 1st in such a short time. Many of the displaced live outside, in tent settlements at freezing temperatures.
Associate press clerk Suzan Fraser from Ankara, Turkey contributed to this report.