In Syria, attack on Kurdish neighborhood in Aleppo kills 9

AP News
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Posted: Apr 05, 2016 1:03 PM
In Syria, attack on Kurdish neighborhood in Aleppo kills 9

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian insurgents shot down a government warplane in the north of the country Tuesday and shelled a predominantly Kurdish neighborhood in the city of Aleppo, killing at least 14 people, opposition monitoring groups and state media said.

State TV said the warplane was shot down with a surface-to-air missile while on a reconnaissance mission over the northern province of Aleppo, adding that the pilot ejected and "work is ongoing to rescue him."

Opposition activists said the warplane was shot down near the village of al-Ais that was captured Saturday by insurgents spearheaded by members of the Nusra Front — al-Qaida's branch in Syria.

The downing of the warplane and latest fighting and shelling in Aleppo, Syria's largest city and former commercial center, threaten to undermine a U.S.-Russia-brokered cease-fire that has largely held since Feb. 27.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the pilot was captured by Nusra Front members, who took him to one of their offices in the area. The Local Coordination Committees said the warplane was a Sukhoi 22.

An amateur video posted online showed a man who appeared to be a pilot as he was being captured by militants in the area.

"Shame on you, you filthy pig," some of the fighters said as they surrounded the man. A fighter could be also heard shouting "take away his gun."

The video appeared genuine and corresponded to other AP reporting of the events

In Moscow, Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said no Russian warplanes flew over Aleppo on Tuesday.

Syrian rebels have shot down several Syrian warplanes since the country's crisis began in March 2011. Russian warplanes have been carrying out airstrikes in Syria since Sept. 30. Syrian militants have not downed any Russian planes. Neighboring Turkey, however, shot down one Russian aircraft last year.

Also Tuesday, the U.N. special envoy for Syria will head to Moscow ahead of the planned resumption of indirect peace talks between the Russia-backed government of Syrian President Bashar Assad and opposition groups next week in Geneva.

Staffan de Mistura's office said he was to meet on Tuesday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss the next round of the talks.

The so-called "proximity talks" between Assad's envoys and representatives of the opposition adjourned last month, after nearly two weeks during which de Mistura shuttled between the delegations.

The talks achieved no significant breakthroughs. U.N.-designated terror groups such as the Islamic State group and the Nusra Front, are not involved in the talks or the cease-fire.

The Nusra Front was also implicated in shelling the predominantly Kurdish Sheikh Maqsoud neighborhood in Aleppo, Tuesday.

The Observatory and other activists on social media said insurgents, including the Nusra Front, shelled the neighborhood amid broader clashes between militants and Kurdish fighters. The Observatory said 14 were killed.

The state SANA news agency said the rocket attack on Sheik Maqsoud killed 15 and wounded about 100.

Sheikh Maqsoud is on the northern edge of Aleppo and has been repeatedly targeted by militants over the past few months amid fighting on its outskirts.

On Monday, state media reported that insurgents fired dozens of shells at the same neighborhood, killing eight and wounding more than 20.

In eastern Syria, the Islamic State group launched an attack on a government air base near the city of Deir el-Zour that is close to the Iraqi border, according to the Observatory. A video obtained by The Associated Press showed an army tank moving and soldiers running in the area of fighting.

The fighting in Deir el-Zour province came a day after rebels captured two villages in Aleppo province from IS, according to the Observatory and LCC.

IS has been fighting on several fronts in Syria and lost territory in central and northern Syria in battles with government forces and the U.S.-backed predominantly Kurdish Syria Democratic Forces.

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Associated Press writers Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow and Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed to this report.