Beirut (AFP)

A regime plane was shot dead Wednesday by jihadists and its captured pilot, a first since the military escalation of recent months in north-west Syria pounded by pro-Damascus forces, said the Syrian Observatory of Rights of Man (OSDH).

The Sukhoi fighter flew over an area east of Khan Cheikhoun, a key town in southern Idleb Province, said NGO director Rami Abdel Rahman.

"The pilot is now in the hands" of the jihadists of Hayat Tahrir al-Cham (HTS, former Syrian branch of al-Qaeda), which dominate the region, he told AFP.

According to Mr. Abdel Rahman, this is "the first Syrian plane shot down" by the insurgents since the regime and its Russian ally began, in late April, to bomb the province of Idleb and segments of neighboring provinces almost daily. from Aleppo, Hama and Latakia.

About 820 civilians were killed in the bombings, according to the OSDH. More than 400,000 people have been displaced in this region, home to three million people, according to the UN.

In addition to HTS, the region is home to a few other rebel groups and still escapes President Bashar al-Assad's control, more than eight years after the start of the Syrian conflict. It was the subject of an agreement on a "demilitarized zone" concluded in September 2018 between Ankara, godfather of the rebels, and Moscow.

But this one was only partially applied, the jihadists having refused to withdraw.

For several days, the regime's forces have been advancing on the ground, at the expense of jihadists and rebels.

On Wednesday, they progressed towards Khan Cheikhoun and "are now four kilometers west of the city" after conquering five villages "surrounding, according to Mr. Abdel Rahman.

Aerial bombardment of several towns and villages in southern Idleb killed a civilian in Maaret Hourma, who died in a Russian raid, according to the OSDH.

Triggered in 2011, the war in Syria has claimed more than 370,000 lives and displaced millions of people.

© 2019 AFP