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Rebels shoot down Syrian helicopter as fighting intensifies

The violence came as government troops moved closer to capturing the last rebel-controlled section of a road linking southern and northern Syria.

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A Syrian government helicopter is shot by a missile in Idlib province (Ghaith Alsayed/AP)

A Syrian government helicopter is shot by a missile in Idlib province (Ghaith Alsayed/AP)

A Syrian government helicopter is shot by a missile in Idlib province (Ghaith Alsayed/AP)

Rebels have shot down a Syrian military helicopter in northern Syria, killing its crew members in a fiery crash.

The incident happened as the government kept up its relentless bombing campaign on the opposition-held region with an air strike in which seven civilians died, activists and news reports said.

The violence in Idlib province came as government troops moved closer to capturing the last rebel-controlled section of a strategic road linking southern and northern Syria.

It would bring the road under the full control of President Bashar Assad’s forces for the first time since 2012.

People gather after a government air strike in the city of Idlib, Syria
The damage after a government air strike in the city of Idlib (Ghaith Alsayed/AP)

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.

Some 700,000 people have fled their homes and surged north towards the Turkish border.

Nearly a quarter of the three million people in Idlib and nearby areas have fled.

Terrified families piled on to 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.

Turkish-backed Syrian fighters prepare to go to the front line in Idlib province, Syria
Turkish-backed Syrian fighters prepare to go to the front line in Idlib province (Ghaith Alsayed/AP)

Associated Press video showed the helicopter spiralling from the sky and breaking up as fire poured from its fuselage, just before it crashed.

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.

Hours later, a Syrian air strike hit the city of Idlib, the provincial capital, killing seven people and wounding nearly two dozen, according to the Syrian Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the air strike killed 12 civilians, half of them children, and wounded about 30.

Opposition activists said the air strike on Idlib, home to about 800,000 people, was carried out in response to the downing of the helicopter.

PA