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   BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian rebels shot down a military helicopter in the country's east, killing eight government troops on board a day after opposition forces entered a sprawling military air base in the north, 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 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.

   As the man speaks, the camera shifts to a pickup truck piled with bodies. The fighter is then heard saying that all of Assad's troops who were aboard the helicopter were killed in the downing. He says Islamic fighters of the Abu Bakr Sadiqq brigade brought down the helicopter as it was taking off from a nearby air base in the provincial capital of Deir el-Zour.

   The Observatory, which relies on a network of activists on the ground, said eight troops were killed.

   On Sunday, rebels occupied parts of a military air base in northern Syria after days of fighting with government troops who were 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 day before, rebels moved deep into the air base despite fire from government warplanes, capturing a tank unit inside the base and killing the base's commander, Brig. Gen. Ali Salim Mahmoud, according to another activists group, the Aleppo Media Center.

   The fighting came hours after Israeli warplanes struck areas in and around the Syrian capital, 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 attack, the second in three days and the third this year, signaled a sharp escalation of Israel's involvement in Syria's civil war. Syrian state media reported that Israeli missiles on Sunday struck a military and scientific research center near Damascus and caused casualties.

   The Syrian conflict started with largely peaceful protests against President Bashar Assad's regime in March 2011, but eventually turned into a civil war that has killed more than 70,000 people according to the United Nations.

   More than one million Syrians have fled their homes during the fighting and sought shelter in the neighboring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Millions of others have been displaced inside Syria.

Published in National News

   DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syrian state TV and residents of Damascus say a powerful explosion has hit the country's capital.

   The nature of Tuesday's explosion in the heart of Damascus was not immediately clear. Resident say they heard a powerful blast and saw thick, black smoke billowing from behind a group of buildings.

   Gunfire was heard in the area immediately after the Tuesday morning blast.

   Syrian TV says the explosion occurred in the central district of Marjeh, although the target was not immediately clear.

   The blast comes a day after Syria's prime minister narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in the heavily protected area of Damascus.

Published in National News

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House Intelligence Committee chairman says Syria's suspected use of chemical weapons against its own people is troubling but adds that he is also worried about those weapons falling into the wrong hands after President Bashar Assad is driven from power.

Republican Rep. Mike Rogers on Sunday said the United States needs to worry about the region's stability and U.S. credibility. He says other countries such as North Korea and Iran are watching how the United States responds to intelligence suggesting Syria probably has used sarin gas.

Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois says the United States needs to be careful, because it previously pushed war with Iraq based on faulty intelligence suggesting that nation had weapons of mass destruction.

Both spoke on ABC's "This Week."

Published in National News
JERUSALEM (AP) — President Barack Obama is set to plunge into the turbulent Middle East on a mission aimed primarily at assuring America's top ally in the region and its friends back home that it will not be forsaken amid bitter domestic political squabbles and budget crises in Washington.

Obama arrives today in Israel for his first visit to the country — and only his second to the Middle East, outside of a quick jaunt to Iraq — since taking office.

He will also be making his first trips as president to the Palestinian Authority and Jordan this week. But on an itinerary laden more with symbolism than substance, an Israel that is increasingly wary of developments in Syria and Iran will be the main focus of his attention.
Published in National News
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