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Two Russian military pilots killed in Syria helicopter crash

Helicopter was not shot at before it crashed near city of Homs, Russian defence ministry says
A Russian Mi-28 similar to the crashed vehicle in Homs AFP)

Two Russian military pilots died when their helicopter crashed near the central Syrian city of Homs, the defence ministry said on Tuesday.

The Mi-28 helicopter, which crashed in the early hours of Tuesday, was not shot at, the ministry said, citing reports from the crash site. Experts are looking into the reasons of the accident.

The bodies of the two pilots were recovered and brought to Russia's Hmeimim air base. 

The crash takes Russia's official combat death toll in Syria to seven.

Moscow says that five Russian servicemen died while on combat duty in Syria, including the pilot of a warplane shot down by Turkey and a special operations officer who called an air strike on himself after being surrounded by Islamic State (IS) militants near Palmyra.

Another serviceman committed suicide while on duty in Syria, the defence ministry said.

The helicopter crash took place less than a month after President Vladimir Putin surprised the West by ordering the bulk of Russian forces to pull out of Syria after a five-and-half-month bombing campaign there.

Putin said that after some 9,000 bombing raids over Syria - targeting IS militants as well as rebels - Moscow's military mission had been "on the whole" accomplished.

After the drawdown Syrian forces - backed by Russian firepower - scored some of their most dramatic successes, reclaiming the world heritage site of Palmyra from IS.

As well as killing thousands of IS and other rebel fighters, the six-month bombing campaign killed at least 1,700 civilians, according to rights group Airwars, which monitors the casualties reported in air strikes in wars in Syria and Iraq.