Dozens Killed, Wounded in Syrian Blast
September 20, 2012
by Edward Yeranian
A Syrian rights group says a blast in northeast Syria has killed at least 30 people and wounded dozens of others. Meanwhile, Syrian state television says a military helicopter, which crashed near Damascus, clipped the tail of a Syrian passenger plane in midair and was not downed by rebels.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says a massive blast occurred when an air strike hit a fuel station in al-Raqqa province Thursday afternoon. An Internet video showed plumes of smoke rising from the scene and people fleeing.
In other developments, there were conflicting reports over how a Syrian helicopter was downed. Syrian state media confirmed that a helicopter crashed over a Damascus suburb early Thursday, saying that it clipped the tail of a Syrian passenger plane in midair. But opposition sources had said that rebel fighters shot the chopper down.
The state report did not include eyewitnesses and no video of the crash was made available.
Riad Kahwaji, who heads the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, said that shooting down Syrian helicopters and jet fighters is no longer a rare occurrence, because of progress in the capabilities of the rebels.
He said the rebels have been able to take over air defense bases in recent weeks, allowing them to capture anti-aircraft weapons and use them against government helicopters and jets.
VOA correspondent Elizabeth Arrott is in Damascus and said heavy government shelling was reported in sections of the capital, in addition to intensive aerial bombardment by government forces.
Rebel fighters reportedly withdrew Wednesday from several districts along the southern fringes of Damascus.
A pro-government TV station claimed that government forces advanced inside Syria's most populous city Aleppo, killing large numbers of what it called "terrorists." Syria's official news agency claimed that 100 Afghan fighters were killed in one district of the city.
The war of attrition inside Aleppo between government forces and rebel fighters is now in its third month.
As the humanitarian crisis continues both inside and outside Syria, the government said that Russia sent 50 tons of aid to the Syrian people and would send another shipment Friday.
Deputy Social Affairs Minister Hassan Hijazi thanked Russia for the aid. He said the first installment of food aid by the Russian government has arrived to help the Syrian people in the face of the current crisis. He accused the European Union and the U.S. of creating the humanitarian crisis by imposing economic sanctions on Syria.
At the same time, foreign supports of the Syrian opposition, known as the Friends of Syria group, met in the Netherlands to discuss new economic sanctions against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal argued that more sanctions would help topple the Syrian president.
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