Syrian opposition offers swap deal for bodies of Russian helicopter crew

Russia is backing the Syrian government in the civil war [Ammar Abdullah/Reuters]
Russia is backing the Syrian government in the civil war [Ammar Abdullah/Reuters]
A group in Syria has reportedly demanded the release of prisoners held in Syrian and Lebanese jails in exchange for the bodies of five people who were shot down in a Russian military helicopter last week.

The Russian helicopter was downed in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province on Sunday, killing all five people on board in the biggest officially acknowledged loss of life for Russian forces since they started operations in Syria.

A Reuters news agency report said the demand was made on Thursday in a statement signed off by a group calling itself the General Foundation for Prisoners’ Affairs.

The group said it wanted the release of prisoners held in Syrian government jails and by Hezbollah in Lebanon, but did not specify who those prisoners were or how many it wanted freed.

Syria’s civil war: Russian chopper shot down in Idlib
It also demanded an end to the siege of areas blockaded by the Syrian army and its allies, and for the delivery of significant amounts of humanitarian aid to people living in besieged areas.

The group’s statement showed what appeared to be identity cards belonging to those killed in the crash.

Russia’s defence ministry said on Monday the Mi-8 military transport helicopter had been shot down after delivering humanitarian aid to the city of Aleppo as it made its way back to Russia’s main airbase in the western province of Latakia.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for shooting down the helicopter.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group (ISIL) group is not active in the area, but there are other rebel groups there, as well as fighters backed by the US and its allies.

Russia and Syria did not make any immediate comment on the demand.

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