UK & World News
Syrian Rebels 'Down Helicopter In Damascus'
Syrian rebels said they had shot down an army helicopter over the Damascus district of Qaboun during a third day of fierce fighting between forces loyal to President Bashar al Assad and his opponents.
"Helicopters are flying at low altitude. It's easy to target them using anti-aircraft weapons," a senior rebel officer said.
The fighting between Syrian troops and rebels in the capital has continued as Russian President Vladimir Putin met with peace envoy Kofi Annan in Moscow.
Speaking briefly after the talks, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Russia sees no reason why the UN Security Council cannot find a consensus for a resolution on the Syrian crisis.
"I see no reason why we cannot also agree at the UN Security Council. We are ready for this," Lavrov said.
Annan added: "The Council, I expect, will be sending out a message that the killings must stop and that the situation on the ground is unacceptable."
Activists claim forces loyal to the Syrian leader have been using helicopter gunships in the ongoing clashes in Damascus, described as the city's worst since the uprising started 16 months ago.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Damascus-based activist Maath al Shami said the attacks were focused on the neighbourhoods of Qadam and Hajar al Aswad, while fighting also took place in Kfar Souseh, Nahr Aisha, Midan and Qadam.
Syria's state-run news agency said troops were still chasing "terrorist elements" who fled from Nahr Aisha to Midan.
But the revolutionary Free Syrian Army said the operation - dubbed "the Damascus volcano and earthquakes of Syria" - was launched "in response to massacres and barbaric crimes" committed by the Assad regime.
The FSA said in a statement that it started to conduct "attacks on all security stations and branches in the cities and the countryside, to enter into fierce clashes (with their forces) and to call on them to surrender".
It called for all international roads to be cut off, "from (northern) Aleppo to (southern) Daraa and from (eastern) Deir Ezzor to (coastal) Latakia, to cut off and seize the supply lines."
Ahead of the talks between Mr Putin and Mr Annan, Russia slammed as "blackmail" Western pressure to push for a UN Security Council resolution against the Syrian regime.
Fears were also raised by comments from Nawaf Fares, the first Syrian ambassador to defect, who warned that President Assad would use chemical weapons against opposition forces and may have already deployed them.
Mr Fares, the most prominent politician to defect since the uprising against Assad began, insisted the president's days were numbered but warned he would be prepared "to eradicate the entire Syrian people" to remain in power.
His comments came as a Turkish official said a Syrian brigadier-general and several other defected military officers were among 1,280 Syrians to have fled from Syria to Turkey overnight.