Thursday, September 20, 2012

Syrian Arab Airlines: 'Passenger jet clipped' in crash

SYRIA'S state-run TV says that a military helicopter that crashed had clipped a passenger jet with 200 people aboard. 
The helicopter went down southeast of Douma, a Damascus suburb that has seen clashes in recent days.

In the incident, the helicopters rotor clipped the tail of a Syrian Arab Airlines jet, the state TV said. The passenger plane "landed safely at the airport and none of the 200 passengers were harmed," the report said.

"We heard the sound of several explosions and some gunfire, and a few minutes later, we were told that a helicopter had crashed," said Mohammad Saeed, an activist in Douma.

But there were conflicting reports as to what brought down the helicopter with rebel fighters claiming responsibility.

The Syrian government has increasingly been using helicopters and other aircraft in its fight against the rebels. 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.

A series of explosions rocked Douma, just northeast of Damascus, shortly before the rebels downed the helicopter, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. State television said the aircraft had "crashed."

The fighting raged as the Observatory, which relies on the accounts of activists on the ground, said the death toll in the 18-month uprising had surpassed 29,000 people, the vast majority of them civilians.

Meanwhile, diplomats from more than 60 nations and the Arab League were meeting in The Hague to toughen and improve coordination of sanctions against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

"We need vigorous implementation," Netherlands Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal told the opening of the "Friends of Syria" working group.

"Sanctions will only have an impact if they are carried out effectively. That is how we can make a difference."

Overnight, UN chief Ban Ki-moon warned the Syrian government and rebels seemed intent on fighting to the bitter end, while saying the international body may offer a new strategy for peace.

And in the latest violence, helicopter gunships pounded Al-Hajar Al-Aswad in Damascus, as the political opposition added new claims of devastation to the southern district and in adjacent neighbourhoods.

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