Syrian rebels shot down on Saturday a Russian fighter jet in the northern Idlib province.
The pilot ejected from the plane, but was killed on the ground, Russia’s Defense Ministry and Syrian rebels said. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed that the pilot is dead but had no immediate further details.
The Hayat Tahrir al-Sham group later claimed responsibility for downing the jet, saying one of its fighters had scored a direct hit with a shoulder launched anti-aircraft missile.
A Syrian rebel in the area told The Associated Press that the pilot was shot and killed when he resisted capture by opening fire from his pistol on the factions who tried to capture him alive.
Idlib province has seen heavy air strikes and fighting on the ground between regime forces backed by Russia and Iran, and the rebels.
The Russian plane was shot down over the town of Khan al-Subl near the city of Saraqeb, close to a major highway where the Syrian regime and its allies are trying to advance, a rebel source said.
Although the Russian pilot escaped the crash, he was killed by rebels who had tried to capture him, the source said.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said that the aircraft was downed by a portable surface-to-air missile. It confirmed that a Russian Su-25 warplane crashed in Syria and that the pilot was killed in fighting on the ground.
Tass news agency quoted the Russian Defense Ministry as saying Moscow retaliated with a strike from an undisclosed high-precision weapon that killed more than 30 militants in an area of Idlib province where the plane was downed.
The Syrian opposition had shown on social media what they said was the wreckage of the plane and the body of the pilot surrounded by rebels.
They said the downed warplane was one of the planes used to target civilian convoys fleeing along a major Syrian highway from villages that the regime and its allies had overrun.
Syria’s civil war, which is now entering its eighth year, has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven more than 11 million from their homes.
A Russian plane was blamed for the death of seven civilians and scores of injuries after cars were targeted on the highway, according to a witness and two rebels sources.
At least five civilians were killed in Saraqeb city on Saturday, which residents blamed on Russian planes.
Syrians in rebel-held areas say they can distinguish between Russian warplanes and those of the Syrian air force, because the Russian planes fly at higher altitude.
Residents say thousands of people have been forced by air strikes to flee the area, moving further north to the safety of makeshift camps on the Syrian side of the Turkish border.
Russia’s Defense Ministry regularly says it targets only hardline extremist militants in Syria.