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US-armed Syrian rebels 'hit Russian helicopter with missile' as it searched for downed plane pilots

Helicopter was searching for the pilots from a jet downed by the Turkish military on the Syrian border

Published 24/11/2015

Russian warplane on fire before crashing on a hill as seen from Hatay province, Turkey, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015.
Russian warplane on fire before crashing on a hill as seen from Hatay province, Turkey, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015.
Smoke from a Russian warplane after crashing on a hill as seen from Hatay province, Turkey, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015. Russia denied that the plane crossed the Syrian border into Turkish skies.
A Russian Su-24 bomber rolls to take off on a combat mission at Hemeimeem airbase in Syria.

A US-armed Syrian rebel group claims it has hit a Russian military helicopter with an anti-tank missile, forcing it to make an emergency landing.

The helicopter was understood to have been among a number of Russian aircraft searching for the two pilots from an Su-24 jet which was downed by the Turkish military.

A woman holds a poster as she pickets the Turkish Embassy in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday has called Turkeys decision to down a Russian jet near the Syria border a stab in the back. The poster reads : The pilots that were shot down, were fighting with terrorists, to save your and our civilians. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
A woman holds a poster as she pickets the Turkish Embassy in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday has called Turkeys decision to down a Russian jet near the Syria border a stab in the back. The poster reads : The pilots that were shot down, were fighting with terrorists, to save your and our civilians. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Free Syrian Army officials said its fighters successfully targeted the Russian search helicopter with anti-tank weaponry.

The insurgent group is among the recipients of US Tow missiles, among other armaments, designed to bolster it against regime forces.

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Unlike the pilots of the Russian jet, the helicopter did not come down within rebel-held territory in the mountainous north-eastern Latakia province where it was hit, the Observatory told Reuters.

Instead, it was reportedly able to make an emergency landing in a nearby government-held area.

What happened to the pilots of the Russian jet remains unclear. While the rebels said they had video and photos showing one had been found dead upon landing near the Turkish border, conflicting reports suggested the second pilot was either missing or also dead.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Jordanian King Abdullah II in the Bocharov Ruchei residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015. Earlier Tuesday Turkey shot down a Russian warplane, claiming it had violated Turkish airspace and ignored repeated warnings. Russia denied that the plane crossed the Syrian border into Turkish skies.
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Jordanian King Abdullah II in the Bocharov Ruchei residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015. Earlier Tuesday Turkey shot down a Russian warplane, claiming it had violated Turkish airspace and ignored repeated warnings. Russia denied that the plane crossed the Syrian border into Turkish skies. "We are looking into the circumstances of the crash of the Russian jet," Russia's Defense Ministry said. "The Ministry of Defense would like to stress that the plane was over the Syrian territory throughout the flight." (Maxim Shipenkov/Pool Photo via AP)

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Turkey has said the Russian plane repeatedly violated its airspace and was warned 10 times before it was shot down by two patrolling F16 fighter jets.

But Russia has said the jet was in Syrian skies at all times, and Vladimir Putin has described its downing as “a stab in the back” from Turkey.

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