Video: Syrian helicopter shot down by rebels during Damascus battle
REBELS shot down a Syrian helicopter gunship that was firing on the Damascus neighbourhood of Jobar during heavy fighting on Monday between rebels and the military, witnesses said.
Syrian state television said in a news flash a helicopter had crashed in Damascus, but offered no further details.
Residents said they saw the helicopter set ablaze as rebels fired assault rifles and heavy machineguns, but none of those interviewed could be sure what, if anything, had hit the craft.
Video posted by activists on the Internet showed the belly of the aircraft engulfed in flames as it fell in a trail of smoke. Rebels could be heard shouting "Allahu akbar (God is great)". The footage did not show the helicopter being hit.
"I watched the helicopter for an hour," said an activist who filmed video of the incident, giving his name only as Tarek.
"It was opening fire. But I missed the moment it was hit. I heard what sounded like an explosion and a very strange squeak as it was falling down," he said.
The helicopter crashed in a narrow residential street in Qaboun, a northeastern district on the outskirts of the capital.
"The rebels had been trying to hit it for about an hour. Finally they did," said an activist in the area, who calls himself Abu Bakr and spoke to Reuters by Skype.
Clashes and shelling intensified in the eastern outskirts of Damascus after the helicopter came down, activists said.
Army helicopters have fired rockets and machineguns at the low-income Sunni Muslim neighbourhoods of Jobar, Zamalka and Irbin in eastern Damascus for the past two days.
A video uploaded by activists later showed what they said were the charred remains of the helicopter. Some of the wreckage was coloured in the camouflage used by the Syrian air force. It appeared to have crashed through the wall of a garden and into a dirt alleyway, sending up clouds of black smoke.
Activists said the latest bombardment of Jobar erupted a day after rebels killed an army sniper and captured another near a roadblock in Jobar, a run-down, cement block neighbourhood near a stadium they said was now used as an army base.
"(President Bashar al-) Assad's army retaliated by arbitrarily arresting 100 people in Jobar. Helicopters dropped fliers warning residents to hand over what the regime describes as terrorists or face annihilation," said Abu Omar, a merchant who lives in the area told Reuters by phone.
The Syrian authorities restrict reporting by independent media, making it hard to verify accounts by both sides.