Army helicopter shot down by rebels in Damascus


A SYRIAN military helicopter fell in flames yesterday in Damascus after being hit by rebel fire, an opposition group said. State media confirmed the crash but did not cite its cause.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the helicopter gunship was struck during fighting between troops and rebels in the eastern district of Jobar and fell in neighbouring Qaboun, where fighting intensified.

Rebels possess both anti-aircraft weapons and British-made Javelin surface-to-air shoulder-launched missiles capable of bringing down aircraft.

Last month rebels claimed to have shot down a Russian-manufactured MiG fighter plane near the Iraqi border, but the government said the crash was due to malfunction.

Helicopters constantly fly over the capital, tracking movements by rebel fighters generally based in outlying districts or the countryside.

The observatory said that 14 more bodies had been discovered in the southwestern town of Darayya where, it is claimed, between 200 and 320 people were killed during five days of shelling and mopping-up by troops. The government blamed rebels for the killings.

The Syrian state news agency Sana reported that 378 people detained for involvement in protests were released in both Damascus and Homs.

A video of Jordanian journalist Bashar Fahmi and Turkish cameraman Cuneyt Unal working for the US-operated al-Hurra channel has been broadcast by a pro-government television channel in Syria. The two men crossed into Syria with rebels and were said to have been captured by the army in Aleppo a week ago.

Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Syria was responsible for Mr Unal’s wellbeing.

The United Nations children’s fund (Unicef) has appealed for $54 million (€43 million) to provide urgent aid for the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees arriving in Jordan, while the government called for long-term funding.

“Hosting over 150,000 Syrians is expected to cost . . . about $152 million annually to cover the increasing demand for basic services and other indirect costs, in addition to $56.7 million in the form of subsidies,” the government stated.

If the Syrians stay longer, $221 million would be needed for capital expenditures.

At present, 17,000 Syrians, half of them children, are housed in the UN-run Zaatari refugee camp in the north but this number is expected to rise to 70,000 by year’s end.

Unicef said conditions at the desert camp are “harsh, with scorching temperatures, no natural shade, and frequent sandstorms”.

Hundreds of Syrians have been stranded at a bus station on the Syrian side of the Bab al-Salama crossing into Turkey because Ankara refused them entry until there are places in refugee camps.

The Syrians are supplied with food and water by Turkish organisations while the rebels, who control the area, provide security.