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Syrian Rebels Shot Down Mi-8 Helicopter to 'Ruin Russia's Aid Operation'

© REUTERS / Ammar AbdullahRebel fighters and civilians inspect the wreckage of a Russian helicopter that had been shot down in the north of Syria's rebel-held Idlib province, Syria
Rebel fighters and civilians inspect the wreckage of a Russian helicopter that had been shot down in the north of Syria's rebel-held Idlib province, Syria - Sputnik International
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The Russian Mi-8 helicopter could have been downed by those who wanted to "ruin a humanitarian operation" that Moscow and Damascus launched in Aleppo, Syria's second largest city that has been devastated by the ongoing conflict, the newspaper Vzglyad reported.

The helicopter was en route to the Hmeymim air base following an aid mission in Aleppo when it was shot down, claiming the lives of five people on board. It was part of an ongoing campaign aimed at helping those trapped in the city. In the last 24 hours, 6,500 food packages, including flour, rice, canned meat and fish, were delivered to the area, the Russian Centre for reconciliation reported on Monday.

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Some have questioned whether the Mi-8 helicopter was truly on a humanitarian mission since it was armed with high-tech weaponry, including launch pod containers and the Vitebsk electronic warfare system, but experts say that there is nothing surprising about this fact.

Launch pod containers can be seen in several images supposedly taken at the Mi-8 crash site. The helicopter needed those for defense, not attack missions. An air force pilot, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the news agency RBC that Mi-8 crews who are tasked with flying missions in conflict areas have always used these weapons.

"The fact that they carry out a humanitarian mission does not mean that they cannot defend themselves," the source said.

Media reports also indicated that the downed helicopter was outfitted with the Russian-made Vitebsk electronic warfare system. The Vitebsk, developed by KRET, is meant to protect an aircraft or a rotorcraft from incoming missiles. The system, developers reported in September 2015, has passed all tests.

Yet the Vitebsk does not provide 100-percent protection, defense analyst Vasily Kashin told RBC. "Even if [the attackers] used a shoulder-carried missile launcher the Vitebsk has been designed to protect against, the missile could have reached its target," he said.

Men inspect the wreckage of a Russian helicopter that had been shot down in the north of Syria's rebel-held Idlib province, Syria - Sputnik International
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The Russian military has not released information on what exactly was used to down the plane, but it is rumored to be exploring several options. These include a shoulder-carried missile launcher, a heavy machine gun, like the DShK 1938 or the KPVT, a grenade dispenser and a small-caliber anti-aircraft artillery, a source close to Russian Aerospace Forces' command told Gazeta.ru.

The Mi-8 tragedy took place in the neighboring province of Idlib that has been controlled by the Army of Conquest (Jaish al-Fatah), an umbrella organization that includes al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham and other Syrian rebels who are fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad and establish a caliphate.

Russia launched its humanitarian operation in Aleppo on July 28. Three humanitarian corridors were opened in the city surrounded by Damascus-led forces, but held by radical groups. Moscow has pledged to deliver food and provide medical assistance to locals. Approximately 14 tons of humanitarian aid were delivered in the first three days of the operation.

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