A Syrian military helicopter has caught fire and crashed after it was apparently hit during fighting between government forces and rebels in the capital Damascus, an activist group has said.
State-run media on Monday confirmed the crash in Damascus but gave no details. Several videos posted on YouTube showed the helicopter flying above buildings while flames gradually engulf it as it abruptly turns, nose dives and spins toward the ground before disappearing from view.
The downing of the helicopter comes as activists report intense new fighting in the suburbs around Damascus, including a possible new massacre of more than 300 people in the Daraya district.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which reported the crash, said there was fighting between troops backed by helicopter gunships and rebels in the western Damascus neighborhood of Jobar.
State media said the chopper crashed in al-Qaboun district, which is close to Jobar.
With its forces stretched thin by fighting on multiple fronts, President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has been increasingly using helicopters and warplanes against the rebels.
The army has for more than a month been fighting major battles against rebels in Damascus and its suburbs while engaged in what appears to be a stalemated fight against rebels for control of northern Aleppo, the nation’s largest city and commercial capital.
The rebels are not known to have any answer to the regime’s air power except anti-aircraft guns that they mostly use as an anti-personnel weapon.
Last month, rebels claimed to have shot down a Russian-made MiG fighter, but the government blamed the crash on a technical malfunction.
The Syrian conflict began 17 months ago with mostly peaceful protests demanding that Assad step down, but it has since morphed into a civil war. Rights activists say at least 20,000 people have so far been killed.
Several thousand refugees have been halted on the Syrian side of the border with Turkey due to more stringent security checks in Turkey.
The tighter checks come amid Turkish fears that Kurdish rebels fighting for self-rule in southeast Turkey may be coming in through Syria.
There are also concerns that fundamentalist Muslim fighters from outside countries are moving in and out of Turkey to fight the Syrian regime.
On Monday, a government official said Turkey was providing emergency aid to the refugees while they wait to be processed.
Turkey hosts more than 80,000 Syrian refugees and has called on the United Nations to set up camps inside Syria.
In Daraya, the Observatory said 320 bodies had been found and collected after what rebels said was a brutal onslaught of shelling, summary executions and house-to-house raids by government troops.
The group said another 14 bodies had been found on Sunday, and that it had so far identified 220 of the dead.
The Local Co-ordination Committees, a network of activists on the ground, described the killings as a “massacre” by Assad’s forces.
Activists have in the past used the word “massacre” to describe mass killings by regime troops targeting rebels who live and move among civilian populations.
The Observatory said at least 149 people were killed across the strife-torn country on Sunday, among them 105 civilians, 26 rebel fighters and 18 soldiers.
Regime forces shelled Basra al-Sham in the province of Daraa, cradle of the 17-month uprising, killing at least 17 civilians on Sunday, it said.