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Syrian military helicopter shot down in Damascus, rebels say [Video]

August 27, 2012 | 10:07 am

BEIRUT -- The Syrian opposition said Monday that rebel forces shot down a Syrian military helicopter that had been firing on insurgent positions in Damascus, the capital.

A video posted on the Internet showed what appeared to be a helicopter, engulfed in flames and smoke, plunging to the ground amid an urban landscape. Also posted was a separate video of smoldering wreckage identified as the doomed chopper.

Syrian state television confirmed that a helicopter had crashed in Damascus, but provided no details, news agencies reported.

Syrian rebels have boasted of downing government aircraft on previous occasions, but this appeared to be the clearest video evidence to date. Still, the contents of the latest videos could not be independently corroborated.

If the helicopter was indeed shot down, analysts will be keen to determine whether rebel fighters used machine guns or more sophisticated weaponry, such as shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles.

Syrian insurgents, outfitted mostly with rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and homemade bombs and mortars, have had little recourse in recent weeks as government aircraft have pounded their positions in various embattled regions of the country.

The opposition complains about a lack of antiaircraft weaponry, despite reports that some missile caches have reached rebel forces, either stolen from government armories or provided by foreign suppliers.

There has been no public indication to date that Syrian insurgents have acquired significant stocks of shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles, though it may just be a matter of time until such systems become part of the rebel arsenal.

Antiaircraft capability could possibly help alter the calculus of battle in Syria, where the uprising against President Bashar Assad is entering its 18th month. The government's superior firepower has thwarted rebel efforts to consolidate territorial gains.

Rebels said they shot down the helicopter Monday after it had been firing for hours on opposition positions in the Jobar district, an opposition stronghold.

The incident took place a day after opposition activists accused the government of massacring hundreds of residents of a Damascus suburb, Dariya, during a recent siege. The government blamed "terrorists," its standard term for anti-government rebels, for the deaths.

Uncorroborated video said to be from the town showed rows of bodies arrayed on floors, with some placed into a trench for burial.

The apparent mass killing has sparked a new round of international condemnation of the Syrian government.

On Sunday, Assad repeated his contention that the Syrian uprising is a "foreign conspiracy," a charge rejected by opposition groups.


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-- Patrick J. McDonnell

Video: A YouTube video purporting to show a Syrian military helicopter falling to the ground.