A Syrian government fighter jet has been shot down by rebels in Idlib province, as Russia-backed government forces closed in on a strategically important town during a push on the last opposition stronghold.
Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham, the most powerful armed group in the area, said on Wednesday its fighters had shot down a Sukhoi 22 jet that had taken off from a Syrian airbase in Homs province.
The statement by the group, a former al-Qaeda affiliate, did not say how the plane had been shot down.
Muhammad Rashid from Nasir Army, a faction of the National Liberation Front in Idlib, told Anadolu Agency that the fighter jet was targeted by anti-aircraft units over the town of al-Tamanah in southern Idlib.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitor which reports on the war using a network of sources on the ground, said heavy machine guns had been used.
A pilot who ejected from the plane was captured, according to the Observatory.
Syria‘s state news agency SANA quoted a Syrian military source who confirmed that a government fighter jet was shot down by rebels in Idlib. The source said that the fate of the pilot remained unknown.
The jet was downed near Khan Sheikhoun, a rebel-held town that was hit by a sarin gas attack two years ago and is now being targeted in the Moscow-backed government offensive.
Also on Wednesday, pro-government forces seized new ground from rebels near Khan Sheikhoun, advancing to within a few kilometres of the town that has been in opposition hands since 2014.
A rebel commander told Reuters News Agency that Khan Sheikhoun was in “great danger”.
Dozens of people were killed in Khan Sheikhoun in April 2017 in the poison gas attack that prompted US President Donald Trump to order a missile attack against the Syrian airbase from where Washington said the gas attack had been launched.