Syrian rebels claim copter victory
A Syrian military helicopter has crashed in a ball of fire after apparently being hit during fighting between government forces and rebels in the Damascus.
A video posted on the internet showed the chopper engulfed in flames and spinning out of control shortly before it hit the ground amid bursts of gunfire near a mosque. Rebels shout "Allahu Akbar!" or God is great, as the helicopter goes down.
Syria's lightly armed rebels have grown bolder and their tactics more sophisticated in recent months. There have been claims of fighters shooting down helicopter gunships in the past, though the government has never confirmed it.
With its forces stretched thin by fighting on multiple fronts, president Bashar Assad's regime has been increasingly using air power against the rebels - both helicopters and fighter jets.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which along with other activists reported the chopper crash, said there was intense fighting between troops backed by helicopter gunships and rebels in the western Damascus neighbourhood of Jobar. State-run media confirmed the crash in the district of al-Qaboun, which is near Jobar and a hotbed of Sunni Muslim rebels. But the reports gave no details about the cause of the crash
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 technical malfunction.
The military 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 in the north against rebels for control of Aleppo, the nation's largest city and commercial capital. The government has recently intensified its offensive to recapture districts in Damascus and its suburbs that have fallen into rebel hands.
Over the weekend, evidence mounted of mass killings by government forces in the Damascus suburb of Daraya. Activists reported that regime forces went on a days-long killing spree after they seized Daraya from rebels Thursday. Reports of the death toll ranged from more than 300 to as many as 600. It was impossible to independently verify the numbers because of severe restrictions on media coverage of the conflict.
In the north, thousands of Syrians fleeing violence were stuck at the border with Turkey after Turkish authorities blocked access to any more refugees while they rushed to build more camps to accommodate the deluge.
The refugee crisis is just one of many examples of how the civil war is spilling across borders into neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan - all of which have seen a massive influx of Syrians.