Clashes in Idlib escalate
Syria chopper downed, killing all crew; Syria forces chip away
DAMASCUS, Feb 14: Syrian military helicopter was shot down over the last major rebel bastion in northwest Syria on Friday, killing all crew on board, state media said, in the second such incident this week.
SANA said the aircraft was downed near the town of Urum al-Kubra where Turkey-backed rebels operate, but it did not say who was behind the incident. Earlier on Tuesday, a Syrian military helicopter was downed over Idlib province, killing at least three crew members.
Tensions between Turkey and Russia over Syria should prompt Ankara to move closer to the West, especially Washington, a senior US State Department official said Friday.
Despite a Moscow-Ankara de-escalation deal, the Syrian regime has pushed an assault with Russian air support in the northwestern province of Idlib controlled by rebel groups and jihadists.
Government forces made new gains in northwestern Syria on Friday, further chipping away at the country's last major rebel pocket, a war monitor said.
Syrian government and allied forces, which have kept up a blistering assault on the Idlib region since December, are now securing areas along a key highway they seized from jihadists and allied rebels this week.
On Friday, they pushed west of the M5 motorway which connects Syria's four largest cities and is economically vital for the government, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
In an attempt to consolidate a "security belt" around the road, they seized a key base on Friday that they had lost to rebels in 2012, the Britain-based monitor said.
Located 12 kilometres (seven miles) west of Aleppo city, Base 46 was the site of a brutal confrontation between government forces and rebels in the early phase of Syria's civil war.
The Observatory estimates that more than 150 Damascus loyalists lost their lives during the rebel takeover of the base at the end of 2012.
Its recapture marks a symbolic win for the government which has reduced the rebel-held pocket to just over half of Idlib province, as well as slivers of neighbouring Aleppo and Latakia.
The Russian-backed offensive has triggered the largest wave of displacement in the nine-year conflict, with 800,000 people fleeing since December, according to the United Nations. -AFP