MOSCOW (Sputnik) — Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy told reporters that the helicopter was shot down from the ground over the area under the control of the Jabhat Fatah al Sham, previously known as al-Nusra Front, a jihadist group outlawed in Russia.
Rudskoy confirmed the deaths of all five people on board the helicopter, classifying its downing as a terrorist attack.
Attack on Humanitarian Aid Providers
The helicopter was returning to the Hmeimim air base after delivering humanitarian aid in Aleppo.
"On August 1 in the province of Idlib, the Russian military-transport Mi-8 helicopter, returning to the Hmeimim air base after delivering humanitarian assistance in the city of Aleppo, was hit by gunfire from the ground. Three crew members and two officers of the Russian center for reconciliation of the opposing sides in Syria were on board," the Russian Defense ministry’s press service said.
It underscored that the fate of the Russian servicemen is being investigated through all available channels.
The crew members on board Russia's transport helicopter downed in Syria died heroically in an attempt to minimize civilian casualties on the ground, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
“Those who were aboard the helicopter, according to information from the Defense Ministry, have died heroically because they were attempting to steer the machine to minimize the casualties on the ground,” Peskov told reporters.
He expressed deep condolences to the friends and relatives of the fallen servicemen.
White House Regrets 'Any Loss of Life'
The US administration regrets any death caused by the ongoing Syrian conflict, White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz told reports following the downing of the helicopter.
"[We] regret for any loss of life in association with this [Syrian] conflict," Schultz said.
In March, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the pullout of the bulk of the Russian contingent in Syria as the anti-terrorist campaign's objectives had broadly been completed.
Following Putin’s announcement of the withdrawal, Moscow said that some Russian military personnel would remain at the Hmeimim air base as well as the naval base at Tartus to observe the implementation of the US-Russia-brokered ceasefire, which came into force across Syria on February 27.