In another sign of the situation escalating in Idlib, a city in northwestern Syria a video released on social media shows a Russian-made Mi-17 helicopter in flames before it breaks up and crashes down from the sky. Now proofs have emerged that the bodies of the occupants were dragged around while they were tied to motorcycles.
The military helicopter was shot down south of Idlib city, where rebels supported by Turkish artillery were advancing near the town of Nairab in Idlib province to push back Russia-backed forces,
Abdulah al-Shami, a commander in a coalition of mainstream rebel factions, told Reuters news agency. Multiple Turkish sources including Turkey's defense ministry too confirmed the downing of a Russian helicopter.
The incident involving the gruesome treatment of the bodies of the Syrian soldiers, however, were being reported only by Syrian sources.
Idlib and its immediate surroundings in northwest Syriaâconsisting of rural northern Latakia, northwestern Hama, and western Aleppoâstand out as the last segment of the country held by groups, which are either primarily jihadist, Islamist, or Salafi in orientation.
In recent days, President Bashar al-Assad's forces, backed by Russian airstrikes, have launched a fresh offensive to seize control of Idlib.
Turkey, however, now has sent in its forces, who along with several proxy fighting groups have launched a counter-attack against the Syrian army.
Around 700,000 people till now have fled the Assad-regime offensive against opposition-held north-west Idlib province.
Turkish troops along with their proxy fighters are attempting to create a buffer zone to stop the refugees from entering Turkey. As the situation continues to escalate, it is only a matter of time before the Syrian army and Turkish forces move closer to an all-out conflict.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan bolstered by rare support from the US has vowed to push back the Syrian government forces supported by the Russian forces from the last rebel stronghold of Idlib.
Though till now Turkey has been able to maintain an uneasy partnership with Russia despite both backing opposing sides. On Wednesday, Russia for the first time issued a direct threat of Turkey after accusing the country of aggravating the crisis by sending in the army.