Syrian rebels shot down a military helicopter in the country’s east, killing eight government troops on board as President Bashar Assad’s troops battled opposition forces inside a sprawling military air base in the north for the second straight day, activists said Monday.
In the past months, rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad have frequently targeted military aircraft and air bases in an attempt to deprive his regime of a key weapon used to target opposition strongholds and reverse rebel gains in the 2-year-old conflict.
The fighting inside the Mannagh air base in northern Syria came a day after Israeli warplanes struck areas in and around the capital, Damascus, setting off a series of explosions as they targeted a shipment of highly accurate, Iranian-made guided missiles believed to be bound for Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group, officials and activists said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Monday posted a video online showing several armed men standing in front of the wreckage. One of the fighters in the footage says it’s a helicopter that the rebels shot down late Sunday in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, along Syria’s border with Iraq.
The Observatory, which relies on a network of activists on the ground, said eight troops were killed.
On Sunday, rebels occupied parts of the Mannagh military air base after weeks of fighting with government troops who have been defending the sprawling facility near the border with Turkey for months, the Observatory said.
Assad’s warplanes were pounding rebel positions inside the Mannagh air base Monday as clashes between rebels and government forces raged on, the Observatory said, adding there was an unknown number of casualties on both sides.
The rebels moved deep into the air base on Sunday despite fire from government warplanes, capturing a tank unit inside the base and killing the base commander, Brig. Gen. Ali Salim Mahmoud, according to another activists group, the Aleppo Media Centre.
The Israeli airstrike on Sunday, the second in three days and the third this year, signalled a sharp escalation of Israel’s involvement in Syria’s civil war. Syrian state media reported that Israeli missiles hit a military and scientific research centre near Damascus and caused casualties. The reports did not specify the number or say if the casualties were civilians or troops.
State-run SANA news agency made no mention of the fighting inside the Mannagh air base. But the agency reported that government troops on Monday regained control of villages along the highway that links the northern city of Aleppo to its civilian airport, the country’s second largest.