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 said.
State-run media confirmed the crash in Damascus but gave no details. A video posted on the internet showed the helicopter engulfed in flames shortly before it hit the ground.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which reported the crash, said there was intense fighting between troops backed by helicopter gunships and rebels in the western Damascus neighbourhood of Jobar. State media said the helicopter crashed in the al-Qaboun district, which is near Jobar.
With its forces stretched thin by fighting on several fronts, President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has been increasingly using air power against the rebels – both helicopters and warplanes. The army has been fighting major battles against rebels in Damascus and its suburbs for more than a month while engaged in what appears to be a stalemated fight against rebels for control of northern Aleppo, the country’s largest city and commercial capital.
The rebels are not known to have any answer to the regime’s warplanes 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 malfunction.
The Syrian conflict began 17 months ago with mostly peaceful protests demanding that Assad step down, but it has since developed into a civil war. Rights activists say at least 20,000 people have been killed so far.