Syrian crash helicopter 'clipped passenger plane'

Damascus skyline (20 Sept 2012) Clashes were reported across Syria with reports of further casualties in Damascus

A military helicopter that crashed near the Syrian capital, Damascus, clipped the tail of a passenger plane in mid-air, state television reports.

The helicopter was earlier said to have crashed north-east of the city, while the plane, carrying 200 passengers, landed safely at Damascus airport.

As clashes continued across the country, opposition activists reported heavy casualties in an air attack on a petrol station in north-eastern Syria.

At least 20 people died, they said.

UK-based opposition activist group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said many more were wounded in the blast, in a village in Raqqa province.

Another group, the Local Coordination Committees said warplanes had bombarded the petrol station near the village of Ain Issa. Seventy people wounded in the attack were taken to hospital in the town of Raqqa, it said.

Rebel clashes

Initially, the Syrian Observatory group said rebels had shot down the helicopter in Douma to the north-east of Damascus, but that claim was not repeated elsewhere.

The helicopter's rotor struck the tail of a Syrian Arab Airlines plane, Syrian official news agencies reported. All passengers on board the plane were unharmed, they said.

The government has increasingly used helicopters and planes in its fight against the rebels and activists had reported clashes in the Douma area at the time.

Last month, rebels said they shot down a helicopter on the outskirts of Damascus.

Clashes were reported in several areas of the country on Thursday, including Damascus and the second city, Aleppo.

Government forces are said to have overrun several districts in the south of Damascus where rebels have been holding out, the BBC's Jim Muir reports from neighbouring Lebanon.

Syrian state TV said at least 100 "terrorists" were detained in the densely populated Yarmouk area, an unofficial Palestinian refugee settlement.

Sanctions

In the Dutch administrative capital, The Hague, a group of financial experts, foreign diplomats and Syrian defectors is meeting to look for new economic ways of weakening Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's grip on power.

The group, called the Friends of Syria, is discussing how to make sanctions on the Syrian government more effective and how to track down the Assad government's hidden financial assets.

Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal at the meeting said that one of the problems was that not all countries implemented sanctions on Syria.

Abdo Husameddin, a former Syrian oil minister who defected from the regime in March, has told the BBC President Assad's extended family may have billions of dollars hidden abroad.

"They are talking about probably more than $10bn (£6.2bn). And there are some other faces in fact hidden beside the regime itself. So all of this money is not directly under the name of Assad himself, but by other names."

Alliance with Iran

On Wednesday, the foreign minister of Iran, Syria's close regional ally, held talks with President Assad, who told him that the attack his country is facing, is not just against Syria, but also against its alliance with Iran and Hezbollah.

There was further heavy fighting in Damascus and in the northern city of Aleppo.

Amnesty International warned that indiscriminate air and artillery strikes were causing a dramatic rise in civilian casualties in Idlib and Hama.

The UN estimates that the conflict has left at least 20,000 people dead.

Bomb attacks in Damascus and the largest city, Aleppo, have become increasingly frequent in recent months, with the authorities often blaming them on "armed terrorist gangs".

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