Clashes continue in Damascus
Syrian fighter planes made rare sorties on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, killing at least 60 people in its eastern suburbs, the same day a Syrian military helicopter crashed while under rebel fire, activists said.
They said aerial attacks by at least two fighter planes late last night had targeted the neighbourhood of Zemalka and the more easterly suburb of Saqba where Free Syrian Army fighters had attacked and overrun several army roadblocks earlier in the day.
Both suburbs are poor and inhabited predominantly by Sunni Muslims, who make up the majority of the country’s population and have been at the forefront of fighting against Syria president Bashar al-Assad.
Video footage seen by a Reuters reporter of the aftermath of an attack by one of the planes firing rockets at an apartment building showed people running away with their children and the six-storey building collapsed like an accordion.
Syrian authorities have banned entry to most foreign media, making it impossible to verify accounts by activists and residents of activity in the capital.
The focus of the 17-month struggle appears to have returned to the outskirts of the capital after weeks of battles centred on the northern city of Aleppo.
Opposition activists said earlier at least 62 people had been killed in an assault on suburbs of Damascus yesterday, some summarily executed, a day after they accused Dr Assad's troops and sectarian militia of massacring hundreds of people in the neighbouring town of Daraya.
At the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the Daraya killings as "an appalling and brutal crime" that should be independently investigated immediately.
Egypt's new Islamist president Mohamed Mursi, preparing to make his debut on the stage of world diplomacy, called for Dr Assad's allies to help lever the Syrian leader out of power.
"Now is the time to stop this bloodshed and for the Syrian people to regain their full rights and for this regime that kills its people to disappear from the scene," Mr Mursi said in his first interview with an international news organisation before embarking on a trip to China and Iran.
"There is no room to talk about reform, but the discussion is about change," Mr Mursi said.
Syria's state television confirmed a helicopter had crashed in Damascus yesterday but gave no details. Opposition activists said rebels had shot it down; opposition video footage showed a crippled aircraft burning up and crashing into a built-up area, sending up a pillar of oily black smoke.
The possible shooting down of the helicopter, the latest of several such successes claimed by lightly armed rebel fighters, bolstered morale in their 17-month struggle battle to bring down Dr Assad. However, even more intense army bombardments followed the helicopter crash, witnesses said.
Although rebel commanders have asked foreign governments for anti-aircraft missiles, Western nations are unwilling to supply such weapons for fear of them falling into hostile hands. There was no indication fighters in Damascus had used any missiles.