Russia ‘Wipes Out’ Syrian Rebels in Area Where its Jet was Brought Down

MOSCOW // Russia on Thursday said its forces had wiped out Syrian rebel groups operating in the area where one of its jets was brought down.

One pilot that parachuted out was later rescued by Russian and Syrian special forces, while a second pilot from the jet and a soldier sent to rescue him were killed by rebels on the ground.

“As soon as our pilot was safe, Russian bombers and artillery of the Syrian government forces carried out massive strikes in the indicated area for an extended period,” military official Igor Konashenkov said. “The terrorists operating in that area and other mysterious groups were destroyed.”

Turkey shot down the Russian jet in northern Syria on Tuesday, alleging that it had crossed over into its air space and sparking a war of words with Moscow.

Russia also pledged measures against Turkey’s economy on Thursday. Prime minister Dmitry Medvedev gave his ministers two days to work out “a system of response measures” in the economic and humanitarian spheres.

The Russian retaliation came even as Russian president Vladimir Putin told French counterpart Francois Hollande that Moscow is ready to cooperate in antiterrorism efforts in Syria, at the start of crunch talks over forming a coalition against ISIL.

Recent attacks in Paris and the bombing of a Russian passenger plane over Egypt “make us unite our efforts against the common evil,” Mr Putin said, adding “we are ready for this cooperation.”

Meanwhile, British PM David Cameron tried to persuade reluctant lawmakers to back air strikes on ISIL in Syria, saying that the Paris attacks have given the fight new urgency and Britain owes it to key allies to act.

A vote on British action could happen in the coming weeks.

A vote on British action could happen in the coming weeks.

Also on Thursday, Germany said it could offer France Tornado reconnaissance jets, a naval frigate, satellite images and aerial refuelling in the fight against ISIL.

It came a day after Mr Hollande met with German chancellor Angel Merkel and called on her country to do more in the fight against the extremist group.

The downing of the Russian plane raised fears it could fuel a wider geopolitical conflict and highlighted the difficulty of forging consensus on the fate of Syria.

Mr Putin demanded an apology for the jet downing, but Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan bluntly refused, accusing Moscow of slander over claims his country was supporting ISIL.

Mr Medvedev said economic action against Turkey could include halting joint projects, restricting financial and trade transactions and changing customs duties.

Measures could also target transport and tourism after Mr Putin told citizens not to travel to Turkey, a hugely popular tourist destination.

The foreign ministry also urged those already in the country Turkey to return home due to “existing terrorist threats”.

Russia also tightened control over Turkish food imports over alleged safety standard violations, saying it would organise additional checks at the border and production sites in Turkey.

Economy minister Alexei Ulyukayev for his part did not rule out that the measures could hit two major projects with Turkey — the planned Turk Stream gas pipeline and the Akkuyu nuclear power plant — in a move that looked set to rattle cages in energy-poor Turkey.

In another move likely to infuriate Ankara, lawmakers from the Kremlin-friendly A Just Russia party introduced a bill calling for a maximum punishment of five years in jail for those who deny the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turkey in 1915 was a genocide.

Turkey has always denied the killings were a premeditated attempt by the Ottoman Empire to wipe out the Armenians.

The raging tensions have threatened to derail Mr Hollande’s marathon effort to try to cobble together a broad anti-ISIL coalition that would include global and regional players.

Turkey summoned the Russian ambassador to Ankara over a violent demonstration that took place outside the Turkish embassy in Moscow following the plane downing.

Also on Thursday, Belgium reduced the terror alert in Brussels, five days after it was raised to the highest possible level that saw schools and the metro closed.

* Agence France-Presse, Reuters, Associated Press, Reuters



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