Rebels down helicopter

Syrian helicopter brought down by rebels.

AMMAN/ALEPPO — A Syrian military helicopter came down in flames in Damascus today as President Bashar al-Assad’s air force strafed and bombarded rebel-held districts in the capital and in Aleppo.

State television confirmed a helicopter had crashed in the Syrian capital but gave no details. Opposition activists said rebels had shot it down. Opposition video footage showed a crippled aircraft trailing fire and crashing into a built-up area, sending up a pillar of oily black smoke.

A day after his enemies accused Assad’s troops and sectarian militia of massacring hundreds of people in the town of Daraya near Damascus, the possible shooting down of the helicopter, the latest of several such successes claimed by lightly armed rebel fighters, bolstered morale. But, witnesses said, even more intense army bombardments followed.

“It was flying over the eastern part of the city and firing all morning,” an activist calling himself Abu Bakr told Reuters from near where the helicopter came down in the suburb of Qaboun.

“The rebels had been trying to hit for about an hour,” he said. “Finally they did.”

Video footage carried the sound of people celebrating the helicopter’s dive with shouts of “Allahu akbar (God is great)”.

Although rebel commanders have asked foreign allies for anti-aircraft missiles, Western nations are unwilling to supply such weapons for fear of them falling into hostile hands. There was no indication fighters in Damascus had used any missiles.

Army helicopters had begun firing rockets and machineguns yesterday at Jobar, Zamalka and Irbin, working class Sunni Muslim neighbourhoods on the eastern outskirts of the city.

Rebels have launched attacks against Assad’s forces in and around Damascus in recent weeks, drawing a fierce response. (Reuters)

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