Mi-8 overhead. Sunrise..jpg
Photograph: Photo by Pavel Kazachkov, used under CC BY

Twelve people were killed in Russian air raids on northern Syria, a monitoring group said Monday, hours after Moscow said one of its helicopters had been shot down in the area with the apparent loss of all five crew members.

The 12, including two children, were killed in intensive Russian air raids near the Abu Dhuhur air base in Idlib province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Local rebel sources said Russian forces carried out 33 airstrikes in the area after the helicopter crashed.

The raids came after Russian General Sergei Rudskoi said that the Mi-8 helicopter had been shot down over territory controlled by members of a former Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate and of the "moderate opposition."

It was returning to the Khmeimim air base on Syria's north-western coast after delivering humanitarian aid to the city of Aleppo when it was shot down by fire from the ground, the Defence Ministry said in an earlier statement carried by the Interfax news agency.

Rudskoi said the al-Nusra Front, a former Syrian branch of al-Qaeda that last week renamed itself the Fatah al-Sham Front and ended its formal affiliation with the international jihadist network, was one of the groups controlling the area of the incident.

Earlier Russian media reports said the helicopter was shot down over territory likely held by the rebel alliance Jaish al-Fath, which includes Fatah al-Sham and controls much of Idlib province.

There was no claim of responsibility for the downing.

All five people on board apparently died in the incident, Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told state news agency TASS.

"They died heroically," spokesman Dmitry Peskov. "The Kremlin sends its profound condolences to the loved ones of our deceased servicemen."

The helicopter was carrying three crew members and two officers from Russia's centre for reconciliation in Syria, Russian media reported.

Russia has been supporting its longtime ally, the Syrian government, with an air campaign since last year.

The Russian intervention has enabled government forces to gain ground on several front lines, recapturing the desert city of Palmyra from Islamic State and imposing a siege on the rebel-held eastern sector of Aleppo.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an independent monitoring organization, has said Russian airstrikes have killed about 5,000 rebel fighters and more than 2,700 civilians.

Another prominent rights group, Amnesty International, has accused Russia and the Syrian government of "deliberately attacking health facilities in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law."

Russia has denied targeting civilian facilities and maintained that its operations are aimed at United Nations-designated terrorist organizations such as Islamic State the former al-Nusra Front.

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