Turkish-backed Rebels Shoot Down Another Syrian Helicopter in Idlib

Turkish-backed rebels also shot down a Syrian military helicopter in northern Syria on Tuesday, killing its crew members in a fiery crash

Turkish-backed Syrian rebels shot down a government helicopter west of Aleppo in Syria's northwestern Idlib region, where violence and displacement has spiked in recent weeks, Turkish and Syrian state media said on Friday.

A rebel military source and eyewitnesses told Reuters Russian jets had been targeting areas in the countryside west of Aleppo earlier on Friday, but they evacuated back to the city after the helicopter was downed.

Turkey's military has sent additional arms and troops to Idlib, on its southern border, to confront a push by Russia-backed Syrian government forces to retake the country's last major rebel stronghold after nearly nine years of war.

Read more: After violent clashes with Syrian forces, Turkey must ask itself a hard question | Did Assad just capture his highway to victory in Syria? 

The Syrian Observatory war monitor said on Friday that Turkey had deployed around 6,500 soldiers to reinforce existing units in northwest Syria, as well as some 1,900 military vehicles since early February.

The helicopter was struck as it flew over the front lines after leaving Aleppo, which is controlled by the government, Anadolu said. Rebels downed another government helicopter on Tuesday near the town of Nairab, to the south.

The violence in Idlib province came as government troops moved closer to capturing the last rebel-controlled section of a strategic highway linking southern and northern Syria, which would bring the road under the full control of President Bashar Assad's forces for the first time since 2012.

Read more: Why is Turkey threatening a full-blown conflict with Syria and to shatter its alliance with Russia 

With support from Russia and Iran, Syrian troops have been on the offensive for weeks in Idlib and parts of nearby Aleppo provinces, unleashing a humanitarian crisis with 700,000 people fleeing their homes and surging north toward the Turkish border.

Nearly a quarter of the 3 million people in Idlib and nearby areas have fled. Terrified families piled onto trucks and other vehicles, clogging muddy rural roads in yet another harrowing exodus in the conflict, now in its ninth year. Hundreds of civilians have died in the latest fighting, according to the United Nations.

The Syrian helicopter gunship was shot down by insurgents amid fighting near the village of Nairab as rebels, backed by Turkish artillery, tried to retake it after losing it last week, according to opposition activists.

Associated Press video showed the helicopter spiraling from the sky and breaking up as fire poured from its fuselage, just before it crashed. Two bodies could be seen on the ground.

Turkey's official Anadolu news agency reported that the pilot and two others aboard were killed, while opposition activists reported that only two crew members were on board