x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

FSA claims it shot down Syrian helicopter as fighting rages

A Syrian combat helicopter crashed in Damascus this morning, state television said, as fierce fighting reportedly gripped the east of the capital a day after the regime was accused of a new massacre.

DAMASCUS // A Syrian combat helicopter crashed in Damascus this morning, state television said, as fierce fighting reportedly gripped the east of the capital a day after the regime was accused of a new massacre.

A series of explosions rocked the city from about dawn and a watchdog reported heavy shelling and fighting between government troops and rebels in several eastern and north-eastern districts and nearby towns.

State television said the helicopter came down near a mosque in Qaboon, but gave no further information, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it believed it "was hit while it was being used in fighting nearby".

A Free Syrian Army brigade later claimed to have shot down the helicopter.

Helicopter gunships were shelling the neighbouring district of Jubar, where anti-regime sentiment is strong, the Observatory said, and reported heavy fighting between the rebel FSA and government forces.

There was no immediate comment from the FSA, which claimed to have shot down a Syrian warplane on August 13 in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor.

The assault on the north-east of the capital was unleashed a day after opposition activists accused President Bashar Al Assad's regime of a new massacre in the south-western town of Daraya.

The Observatory said hundreds of bodies had been found in the small Sunni Muslim town after what activists described as brutal five-day onslaught of shelling, summary executions and house-to-house raids by government troops.

It said Sunday that 320 people had been killed and on Monday reported the discovery of another 14 bodies in Daraya after the offensive by troops battling to crush insurgents who have regrouped in the south-western outskirts of Damascus.