Free Syrian Army ‘downs’ regime helicopter in Damascus

A helicopter believed to belong to Syrian regime forces was reportedly downed by fighters from the Free Syrian Army. (Al Arabiya)

Syrian opposition fighters on Monday said they downed a helicopter in Damascus belonging to regime forces, amid a string of explosions reportedly heard on the ground in the Syrian capital.

The explosions were heard in Damascus on Monday, an AFP news agency correspondent said, adding that the blasts began at around 6:00 a.m. (0300 GMT).

The helicopter believed to belong to Syrian regime forces was downed by fighters from the Free Syrian Army, the armed opposition group, according to Al Arabiya reports citing the Syrian Media Center.

"It was in revenge for the Daraya massacre," Omar al-Qabooni, spokesman for the FSA's Badr battalion in Damascus told AFP, adding that rebels had found the body of the pilot after the helicopter crashed to the ground in a ball of flames.

A series of explosions rocked the city from about dawn, an AFP correspondent said, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported battles in Qaboon and the neighbouring district of Jubar, where anti-regime sentiment is strong.

The FSA also said it shot down a Syrian warplane on August 13 in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, but the claims cannot be independently confirmed.

At least 14 more bodies have been found in the town of Darya near Damascus after activists reported a gruesome “massacre” there in a five-day assault by regime forces, a watchdog said on Monday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights had reported on Sunday the discovery of 320 bodies in Darya after what opposition militants said was a brutal onslaught of shelling, summary executions and house-to-house raids by government troops.

The Observatory said another 14 bodies had been found on Sunday, and that it had so far identified 220 of the dead.

The Local Coordination Committees - a network of activists on the ground - described the killings as a “massacre” by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

The Britain-based Observatory said at least 149 people were killed across the strife-torn country on Sunday, among them 105 civilians, 26 rebel fighters and 18 soldiers.

Regime forces shelled Basra al-Sham in the province of Deraa, cradle of the 17-month uprising, killing at least 17 civilians on Sunday, it said.

“Among them were women and children,” said the Observatory, which has a network of sources on the ground including doctors and activists.

New shelling on Monday killed three men, three children and two women in Kafr Batna in the province of Damascus, the Observatory added.

EU condemns ‘massacre’

The European Union condemned on Monday a “massacre” in the town of Daraya near Damascus, Syria, where rebels reported the discovery of hundreds of bodies.

“We regret and strongly condemn this sort of violence, it's totally unacceptable,” Michael Mann, spokesman for EU foreign affairs High Representative Catherine Ashton, told a news briefing.

The circumstances of what opposition militants said was a brutal onslaught of shelling, summary executions and house-to-house raids by government troops, and what Mann called “disgraceful massacres, whoever they're perpetrated by,” were “not entirely clear,” he said.

He added: “We condemn unreservedly also violence by the regime against the people of Syria.”

Mann said of the EU aim to bring about a “peaceful transition to democracy” that “in terms of our involvement with the opposition, of course we support the opposition -- any opposition groups who believe in human rights and democracy and want to have a democratic transition in the country.”

Around 25,000 people - most of them civilians - have been killed in Syria since the outbreak of a revolt in March last year turned into a bloody insurgency after the regime launched a massive crackdown on dissent, according to Observatory figures.

It is impossible to independently verify death tolls reported in Syria because of severe restrictions on media operating there.

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