Syrian chopper down in Damascus fighting

(CBS/AP) BEIRUT — A Syrian military helicopter caught fire and crashed Monday 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 chopper engulfed in flames shortly before it hit the ground.

Reuters quotes witnesses as saying it was rebel fire that brought the chopper down.

The Britain-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 neighborhood of Jobar. State media said the chopper crashed in al-Qaboun district, which is close to Jobar.

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 warplanes. The army 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 against rebels for control of northern Aleppo, the nation'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 technical malfunction.

The Syrian conflict began 17 months ago with mostly peaceful protests demanding that Assad step down, but it has since morphed into a civil war. Rights activists say at least 20,000 people have so far been killed.

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