Russia suffered the biggest single loss of life of its 10 -monthlong mission in Syria when five people died in a military helicopter that was shot down after delivering aid.
The Mi-8 transporter arrived under flame from the ground in Syrias north-western Idlib province as it was returning to the Hmeimeen air base after delivering humanitarian aid to the city of Aleppo, the Russian Defense Ministry said in an e-mailed statement Monday. Three crew and two officers from the Russian Center for Reconciliation in Syria were on board, government ministries said.
Those on board the helicopter, as far as we know from information received from the Defense Ministry, were killed, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call Monday. The crew succumbed as heroes since they are sought to avoid people on the ground as their craft crashed, he said.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced last week the start of a major humanitarian operation for people in Aleppo after Syrian government forces seized control of the last rebel supply routes into the east of the city. Heavy fighting is taking place as rebel forces-out try to break the siege in Syrias former commercial capital, which has been divided between government and opponent forces-out since 2012. The Russian airforce is active support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assads troops opposing Islamic State and other activists near Aleppo, Shoigu said.
Graphic images were posted on Twitter of what were alleged to be the organizations of crew members from the crashed helicopter, including one depicting a corpse being dragged along the ground by people, as well as identity documents said to have been retrieved from the site.
The helicopter was shot down over a zone of Syria controlled by the jihadist Nusra Front and activists from the so-called moderate opponent, Sergei Rudskoy, head of the main operations directorate of the Russian general staff of the armed forces, told reporters at a Defense Ministry briefing in Moscow on Monday. All on board were killed, he said.
Russia has employed Mi-8 helicopters to drop 500 food kits to people in the field of Aleppo controlled by armed groups, the Defense Ministry said on its website on Sunday.
Prior to the crash, 14 Russian servicemen have died since President Vladimir Putin ordered the military campaign in Syria last September, according to the View business dailys website. The intervention changed the tide of the conflict in favor of Assad in a war thats killed more than 280,000 people and sent millions fleeing to neighboring countries and Europe. Efforts led by the U.S. and Russia to negotiate a political solution to the conflict have stalled.