Syrian pilot of downed helicopter 'took selfies with Soleimani'
Identified by activists as Major Abu Ali, the Syrian pilot had posted a photo of himself posing next to Soleimani inside an aircraft on Facebook in 2016.
In another 2016 post, Abu Ali shared an aerial photo of the aftermath of a barrel bomb taken on board an aircraft, captioned: "Castello Road is under control".
The pilot had also shared a photo of himself standing in front of Russian military jets with his thumbs up, captioned: "This is Aleppo. Congratulations to all Syrians for victory."
The highway referred to, known once as "Death Road", was the final rebel supply line during the last moments of the regime-led siege of eastern Aleppo in 2016 - a key turning point in the country's civil war.
A decisive win for forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, the siege was marked by widespread violence against civilians, including indiscriminate aerial strikes and shelling against civilians at the hands of Syrian and Russian Air Forces.
Four years later, pro-regime fighters have managed to claw back most opposition territories in the country's northwest but Idlib still remains in rebel hands.
Abu Ali is believed to have been killed after a Russian Mi-15 helicopter came down in the north western town of Nairab on Tuesday. A video circulating on social media platforms showed the aircraft in flames and crashing towards the ground.
A Turkish-backed rebel group was behind the downing of the plane, which killed three Syrian air officers, including the pilot and co-pilot, anti-regime activists who told The New Arab.
Tuesday's shooting down of the helicopter comes as regime forces are close to capturing the last rebel-held part of a strategic highway linking southern and northern Syria, which would bring the road under Assad's full control for the first time since 2012.
Idlib province is home to around three million people, many of whom have been displaced by previous military offensives elsewhere in the country.
According to the United Nations, close to 700,000 people have been forced to flee violence since the start of December, one of the biggest waves of displacement since the start of the war in 2011.
Hundreds of civilians have also been killed, according to the United Nations.