Syrian state media denies government plane downed in northwest – Reuters

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syrian state media denied a report on Sunday that a government plane had been shot down and said instead that its army had downed a Turkish drone in the Idlib region of northwest Syria.

Turkey’s state-owned Anadolu Agency said a Syrian plane was shot down in the northwest, where the Syrian army, with Russia’s backing, is pressing an offensive against the last major rebel stronghold in the nine-year war.

A witness told Reuters that a Turkish reconnaissance plane was shot down by mistake with surface-to-air missiles from territory under the control of Turkey-backed rebels.

Reuters could not independently verify the accounts.

Syrian state media said the aircraft crashed in Saraqeb town in Idlib, where the risk of a wider escalation has grown after 34 Turkish soldiers were killed in attacks by Syrian troops last week.

With diplomacy efforts by Ankara and Moscow to ease tensions in tatters, Turkey has come closer than ever to confrontation with Russia on the tangled battlefield in Syria.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday he had asked Russia to stand aside in Syria and let Turkey fight Syrian forces alone.

Turkish forces have been hitting Syrian troops and positions in Idlib in the recent weeks, including with drone strikes.

Syria’s army warned it would take down any planes or drones breaching the airspace over the northwest, state news agency SANA said earlier .

“Any aircraft that violates our airspace will be dealt with as enemy aircraft that must be brought down,” it said, citing a military source.

Reporting by Ellen Francis in Beirut and Ali Kucukgocmen in Istanbul; Additional reporting by Khalil Ashawi in Syria; Editing by Mark Potter