AL ISSAWIYAH / AP
In this Syrian mountain village perched above the Mediterranean, residents say they have enjoyed a measure of peace, even though they live near a border that has seen escalating tensions in recent months between Turkey and Russia.
The villagers, most of whom are members of Syria’s Turkmen ethnic minority, have formed their own militia, but they rely heavily on the Syrian army, said Al Issawiyah’s mayor, Mustafa Yussef Kafe.
Hundreds of them lined up to receive a truckload of food, water and other humanitarian aid sent by Moscow, a longtime ally of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. The delivery was part of a ceasefire that began last weekend in the 5-year-old civil war between Assad and the rebels trying to oust him from power.
“We live in peace here, and we are very grateful to Russia for the help it is offering,” the mayor told international reporters on a trip to the village organized by Russia’s foreign and defense ministries.
On November 24, NATO-ally Turkey shot down a Russian Su-24 that it said ignored repeated warnings and crossed into Turkish airspace from Syria for about 17 seconds.
The two pilots of the Russian warplane ejected, but one was killed by Syrian rebel fire as he parachuted from his aircraft. One of two helicopters sent to the crash site to search for survivors was also hit by rebel fire, killing a serviceman.
The incident came less than two months after Russia began a campaign of massive airstrikes in Syria. The bombardment helped Syrian government troops retake lost ground in an offensive against groups that Assad considers to be terrorists, although the US said most of the targets have been rebels supported by the West.
“We are deeply sorry for the Russian pilot,” Kafe said, referring to the Russian airman’s death as a “heroic deed.”
Russia denied the intrusion, and President Vladimir Putin denounced Turkey for what he described as a “treacherous stab in the back.” He responded by imposing economic sanctions, including restricting Turkish imports to Russia and a ban on Russian package tours to Turkey.
Putin also ordered the deployment of long-range air defense missiles to the Russian air base in Syria that is 50 kilometers south of the border with Turkey. Russia has said it would destroy any target threatening its warplanes.
Al Issawiyah sits in the mountains just 15 kilometers south of the Turkish frontier.
Before the ceasefire, the Syrian army launched an offensive around the northern city of Aleppo under Russian air cover, and the Kurdish YPG militia sought to extend its gains near the border.