Russian, Syrian special forces rescue Russian pilot – Syrian media

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Russian and Syrian special forces rescued one of the pilots of a Russian warplane shot down by Turkey near the Turkish-Syrian border, Syrian state media reported on Wednesday.

The state news agency SANA said the pilot, whose Su-24 jet came down in Syrian territory on Tuesday, had been retrieved from an area where rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad were present.

Syrian special forces “last night carried out a joint operation with Russian special forces, penetrating four to five kilometres into areas where terrorists are located, and were able to save one of the pilots of the Russian plane”, SANA reported, adding that he had been returned to a military base.

Syria’s government uses the term terrorists to describe all insurgents fighting against it.

The incident was one of the most serious publicly acknowledged clashes between a NATO member country and Russia for half a century. Turkey said the jet had violated its air space while Moscow said the plane had not left Syrian air space.

Both of the two pilots bailed out but one was shot dead from the ground, Russia’s army said.

A deputy commander of rebel Turkmen forces in Syria said on Tuesday that his men had shot both pilots dead as they parachuted down. However, the Russian Defence Ministry also said one of them was safe and had returned to Russia’s air base in western Syria.

Russia intervened directly in the Syrian civil war on Sept. 30 with its own air campaign in support of Assad, whose forces are fighting insurgents backed by regional powers including Turkey.

The warplane crashed in a mountainous area in the northern countryside of Latakia province, where there had been aerial bombardment earlier and where pro-government forces have been battling insurgents on the ground, monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Russian forces launched a heavy bombardment against insurgent-held areas in Syria’s Latakia province on Wednesday, near where a Russian warplane had been shot down by Turkey the day before, rebels and a monitoring group said.

At least 12 air strikes hit Latakia’s northern countryside as pro-government forces clashed with fighters from al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and Turkmen insurgents in the Jabal Akrad and Jabal Turkman areas, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

A Turkmen commander said missiles fired from Russian warships in the Mediterranean were also hitting the area, as well as heavy artillery shelling.

Hassan Haj Ali, the head of Liwa Suqour al-Jabal, a rebel group operating in western Syria, also said there were fierce battles in the area, with Russian aircraft supporting pro-government forces.