A Russian helicopter was shot down Monday after delivering aid to the Syrian city of Aleppo, killing all five crew members on board, Russian state media reported.
The Russian Defense Ministry said the Mi-8 helicopter was shot down by ground fire in Idlib province as it returned to base, state TV reported.
“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,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the state-run Sputnik news agency.
The helicopter downing comes amid deadly fighting in eastern Aleppo, where rebels are trying to break a Syrian government siege in the country’s five-year civil war.
Up to 300,000 people trapped
The offensive has given way to days of airstrikes by regime and Russian warplanes.
The United Nations has warned of a potential humanitarian catastrophe in Aleppo as regime troops, backed by Russian air power, tighten their grip on the ruined city.
An estimated 200,000 to 300,000 people remain trapped in the rebel-held part of eastern Aleppo.
The Syrian and Russian governments say three humanitarian corridors have been opened to allow for the distribution of badly needed food and medical aid to civilians and to provide residents — along with rebels who choose to surrender — the opportunity to leave.
The Syrian government has declared a general amnesty for rebels who surrender to government authorities within three months.
Kerry says corridors could be a ‘ruse’
So far, 169 civilians and 69 militants offered amnesty fled over the weekend through the corridors, a Russian military official told Sputnik.
CNN sources in Aleppo believe residents aren’t using the corridors much out of fear of what the government might do to those fleeing.
Russia says that it has prepared 14 tons of humanitarian cargo for those who leave the city, with 2.5 tons of food and other essentials already supplied.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry suggested Friday that the corridor approach could potentially be a “ruse,” telling reporters it carried “the risk … of completely breaking apart the level of cooperation” between the United States and Russia.
However, he said, “If we’re able to work it out … and have a complete understanding of what is happening and then agreement on the way forward, it could actually open up some possibilities.”
The United Nations has called for a 48-hour ceasefire to deliver much-needed humanitarian aid to the city, where most people are suffering malnutrition and medical supplies are dwindling.