Men gather metal scraps from the debris of an Assad regime military helicopter shot down by anti-Assad fighters in western Aleppo Province, Syria, February 14, 2020 (Omar Haj Kadour/AFP)
Rebels have downed a second regime helicopter in four days, as residents protested the Russian-regime assault on northwest Syria.
In a sign of the fightback against the 9 1/2-month offensive, anti-Assad fighters downed the heiicopter with an anti-aircraft missile near Darat Azza in western Aleppo Province, amid an anti-Assad ground assault.
Rebels claimed that they took several villages along the frontline.
A regime military official, acknowledged, “One of our military helicopters was hit by an enemy missile in the western countryside of Aleppo…where armed terrorist organizations supported by Turkey are deployed, and this led to the fall of the helicopter and death of its crew.”
On Tuesday, the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army shot down a helicopter near Tafatanaz, northeast of Idlib city.
The downings testified to an escalation of Turkish support through weapons, notably anti-aircraft missiles. However, despite the warnings of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his demand for regime withdrawal from Idlib Province, Ankara has held back from an overt presence on the frontline in Idlib and Aleppo.
See also Syria Daily, Feb 13: Turkey Keeps On Warning, But Russia Keeps On Bombing in Northwest
Russia and the regime launched the assault on Idlib and northern Hama Province in late April, shattering a de-escalation zone agreed by Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin in September 2018.
The offensive has seized almost all of northern Hama and part of southern Idlib, killing more than 1,800 civilians, wounding thousands, and displacing more than a million.
Last week pro-Assad forces entered the key town of Saraqeb, on the junction of the M4 and M5 highways. Meanwhile, Russia and the regime stepped up aerial attacks in neighboring western Aleppo Province, and fighting surged on the frontline.
On Thursday, Turkey deployed more forces to reinforce a ring of 12 observation posts which have been rendered ineffective by the Russia-regime offensive. The move came a day after Erdoğan repeated that Turkey will strike all threatening pro-Assad positions and that Ankara expects the regime to withdraw behind the posts by the end of February. Otherwise, he said, the regime will “face consequences”.
Residents Rally Against Offensive
Despite mass killing and displacements, civilians rallied across Idlib Province on Friday to denounce the offensive and appeal for Turkish intervention.
Videos and pictures showed gatherings in towns and cities such as Idlib and Kafr Takharim and near the Bab al-Hawa crossing at the closed Turkish border.
Civilians march out in demonstrations in several cities in northern Syria calling for an end to the Russian and Syrian bombing and demanded Turkish forces intervene to protect them from the oppression of the Assad regime, Russia and Iran.#syria pic.twitter.com/Q9Eca2Ak5l
— Mohamad Rasheed محمد رشيد (@mohmad_rasheed) February 14, 2020
David Swanson, the UN spokesperson for Syria, said on Thursday that more than 800,000 Syrians, mostly women and children, have fled their home since December 1.
Many of the displaced are living without shelter in freezing cold. Turkey, which hosts more than 3.7 million Syrian refugees, is refusing to take any more.
An estimated 3 million people, about 20% of Syria’s remaining population, live in the greater Idlib area.
UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York on Friday:
“Women and children are among those that are suffering the most — they make up about 81% of the recently displaced people.
Temperatures across the northwest Syria have been below freezing for several days, leaving families exposed to increasingly harsh conditions.