Syrian military chopper crashes near Damascus

Syrian military chopper crashes near Damascus

State-run TV reports aircraft clipped passenger jet with 200 people aboard

BEIRUT (AP) — A Syrian military helicopter crashed in a rebellious suburb of Damascus on Thursday, state-run TV said, but the circumstances in which the aircraft went down were not immediately clear.

Syria’s state-run TV said the military helicopter had clipped the tail of a passenger jet with 200 people aboard.

The TV said the jet landed safely at Damascus airport Thursday and that nobody was injured.

The helicopter went down southeast of Douma, a Damascus suburb that has seen clashes in recent days. There were no further details on the crash.

“We heard the sound of several explosions and some gunfire, and a few minutes later, we were told that a helicopter had crashed,” said Mohammad Saeed, an activist in Douma.

In northern Syria, shelling and gunfire continued to echo across a border region, a day after rebels seized control of a strategic crossing on the Syrian-Turkish frontier.

Syria’s rebels have captured several other border crossings into Turkey, as well as one into Iraq, but Wednesday’s seizure of the Tal Abyad post is believed to be the first time they have overrun a frontier post in the northern province of Raqqa.

Thursday’s shelling and gunfire, however, suggested fighting was still going on in the area.

In Akcakale, on the Turkish side of the border, a large explosion was heard and in the distance in Syria, military vehicles were seen rushing toward the blast scene as smoke billowed from the area.

Tension was high as Turkish police vehicles escorted reporters covering the events in Syria away from the border. Turkish security forces were also seen moving local residents and cordoning off the area closest to Syria.

Some irate Turkish residents lunged and threw stones at a car carrying an APTN cameraman and at least two other media vehicles. It was not immediately clear what caused their anger.

In Damascus, soldiers raided a Palestinian refugee camp where many Syrians from other parts of the country’s capital and its suburbs have found shelter from the fighting, arresting dozens of people in a sweeping operation, the government and opposition groups said.

Syrian TV said an army unit conducted a “special operation” during which about 100 gunmen were captured in the Palestinian refugee camps of Yarmouk and Palestine in Damascus. It gave no further details.

The Local Coordination Committees activist network said gunfire and several casualties accompanied the raid. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said three people were killed and dozens of others were arrested when troops stormed parts of the Yarmouk camp that has become home for many residents of Damascus’ Hajar al-Aswad district, an area that saw heavy fighting between rebels and government troops in recent days.

In a statement late Wednesday, the opposition Syrian National Council declared districts in southern Damascus a “disaster area.” It said days of artillery shelling and pounding by helicopter gunships have left the besieged areas destroyed and cut off from the rest of the city, with no water or electricity.

The SNC called on the international community to work toward stopping the shelling immediately and allowing the Red Cross to evacuate the wounded. It added that the “international and Arab reaction to what is happening in the world’s oldest inhabited city is absolutely not enough.”

The Syrian government has increasingly been using helicopters and other aircraft in its fight against an 18-month-old rebellion against the Assad rule. Rebels have claimed to have shot down helicopters and warplanes in the past, although the regime has blamed most of the problems on mechanical difficulties.

Saeed, the Douma activist, said Syrian MiG warplanes and helicopter gunships had been flying low over the southeastern part of the neighborhood before Thursday’s crash. Speaking via Skype from Douma, he said the helicopter crashed in a district known as Tal Kurdi near a factory for household items.

Rebels in Syria are fighting mostly with light weapons. Still, they are increasingly claiming success in downing government aircraft.

In the first week of September, rebels said they shot down a MiG aircraft in Abu al-Dhuhour, an area in the northwestern province of Idlib. On Aug. 13, rebels claimed to have shot down a regime MiG-23 warplane and captured the pilot in Deir el-Zour. Syria said the pilot ejected after a technical malfunction in the fighter jet.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press

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