Feb. 3 (UPI) — More than two dozen Syrian rebels on Saturday were killed by Russian cruise-missile attacks after Syrian rebels downed a Russian fighter jet.
The pilot of the Russian Su-25 fighter jet had ejected and landed safely but was later killed by terrorists, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.
Russia’s retaliation of the Syrian attack used precision-guided weapons in a strike that killed more than 30 militants where the plane was downed in the northwest province of Idlib, according to reports.
The incident comes as Syrian government forces, with support by Russian air and Iranian arms, have intensified their offensive into the province, which is one of the last rebel-held strongholds in Syria and host to several al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamist groups.
Russian and Syrian airstrikes have raised doubts about the future of Idlib, which has been firmly under the control of Islamist rebels since mid-2015. Most prominent among them is Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a coalition of jihadist groups headed by Jabhat al-Nusra, now known as Fateh al-Sham.
Valery Gerasimov, the commander of Russian forces in Syria, called for Tahrir al-Sham’s “elimination,” saying that would be his top priority in 2018.