Syrian TV: Helicopter crashes near Damascus
BEIRUT (AP) — A Syrian military helicopter crashed in a rebellious suburb of Damascus on Thursday, state-run TV said, but the circumstances in which the aircraft went down were not immediately clear.
The brief Syrian TV report said the helicopter crashed southeast of Douma, a suburb that has witnessed repeated military crackdowns to purge fighters seeking to topple President Bashar Assad. No further details were made available.
‘‘We heard the sound of several explosions and some gunfire, and few minutes later, we were told that a helicopter had crashed,’’ said Mohammad Saeed, an activist in Douma.
In Damascus, soldiers raided a Palestinian refugee camp where many Syrians from other parts of the country’s capital and its suburbs have been sheltering, arresting dozens of people in a sweeping operation, the government and opposition groups said.
Syrian TV said an army unit conducted a ‘‘special operation’’ during which about 100 gunmen were captured in the Palestinian refugee camps of Yarmouk and Palestine in Damascus. It gave no further details.
The Local Coordination Committees activist network reported gunfire and several casualties that accompanied the raid. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said three people were killed and dozens of others were arrested when troops stormed parts of the Yarmouk camp that has provided shelter for many residents of Damascus’ Hajar al-Aswad district, an area has seen heavy fighting between rebels and government troops in recent days.
The government increasingly has been using helicopters and other aircraft in its fight against an 18-month-old rebellion against the Assad rule. Rebels have claimed to have shot down helicopters and warplanes in the past, although the regime has blamed most of the problems on mechanical difficulties.
Saeed said Syrian MiG warplanes and helicopter gunships had been flying low over the southeastern part of Douma before Thursday’s crash. Speaking via Skype from Douma, he said the helicopter crashed in a district known as Tal Kurdi near a factory for household items.
Rebels in Syria are fighting mostly with light weapons. Still, they are increasingly claiming success in downing government aircraft.
In the first week of September, rebels said they shot down a MiG aircraft in Abu al-Dhuhour, an area in the northwestern province of Idlib. On Aug. 13, rebels claimed to have shot down a regime MiG-23 warplane and captured the pilot in Deir el-Zour. Syria said the pilot ejected after a technical malfunction in the fighter jet.
Associated Press writer Albert Aji contributed to this report from Damascus, Syria.