Extremist rebels down Syrian helicopter killing 2 pilots

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[ObjectName]=SYRIA-CONFLICT-RUSSIA [Urgency]=5 [Category]=WAR [DateCreated]=113914+0300 [OriginalTransmissionReference]=g2mapping/libg2 2.12.19 [Byline]=AFP [BylineTitle]=STR [City]=Idlib [CountryCode]=SYR [CountryName]=Syria [Credit]=AFP [Source]=AFP [Caption]=A picture taken on August 1, 2016 reportedly shows Syrian rebels gathering around the wreckage of a Russian Mi-8 military transport helicopter after it was shot down along the administrative border between Idlib province, northwestern Syria and neighbouring Aleppo. Russia's defence ministry announced the downing of the helicopter, which it said was carrying three crew and two officers and said that all five people on board were assumed dead. The attack came as Syrian opposition fighters and their jihadist allies battled government forces outside Aleppo in a bid to ease the regime's siege of rebel-held parts of the northern city. / AFP PHOTO / Mohamed al-Bakour

DAMASCUS,  (Xinhua) — Intense battles between extremist rebels and Syrian army continued Friday in the central province of Hama, where the rebels shot down a Syrian aircraft, killing two pilots, according to a monitor group.

The intense clashes continued in the areas of Ma’an and Ma’rdes in the northern countryside of Hama, coupled with shelling and airstrikes on the rebel positions, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The UK-based watchdog group said the rebels shot down a Syrian helicopter while landing, killing two officer pilots.

Other activists said the rebels captured several Syrian soldiers during Hama’s recent battles, beheading at least two of them, according to photos released online Friday.

The Syrian army received reinforcements Thursday to confront a widescale offensive by rebels in the central province of Hama, amid confirmation that the military counter-offensive started Friday.

Hama’s northern countryside has once again come under the spotlight after rebels repeatedly attacked government posts there.

The primary reason behind repeated rebel attacks is to keep the army busy on several fronts, which will reduce the army’s pressure against rebels in other parts of Syria.

Recent reports indicate that rebels in the northern province of Aleppo are folding under pressure from the army, which has reportedly closed all entryways into the rebel-held areas in the eastern part of Aleppo.