BEIRUT - Regime airstrikes hit a gas station in northern Syria Thursday, setting off a fiery explosion that killed at least 30 people and wounded dozens, opposition activists said. Amateur video showed thick black smoke engulfing the scene.
Earlier Thursday, a Syrian military helicopter crashed near the capital of Damascus, and Syria's Information Ministry said the helicopter went down after its rotor accidentally clipped the tail of a Syrian passenger plane with 200 people on board. The larger aircraft landed safely at Damascus International Airport and no one was hurt, the ministry said.
The airstrikes and the close call in the sky underscored the growing turmoil and violence in Syria. The country is embroiled in a civil war between forces fighting for President Bashar Assad and those trying to topple him. More than 23,000 people have been killed in the 18-month conflict, according to activists.
In this Wednesday photo, a Free Syrian Army fighter fires an anti-aircraft machine gun against a Syrian Army jet in the Saif Al Dula district in Aleppo, Syria.
In recent weeks, Assad's regime has stepped up airstrikes in northern Syria in an attempt to dislodge rebels from areas they control there. Activists said Thursday's air attack hit near the town of Ain Issa, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Turkey. A day earlier, rebel fighters had seized control of a border crossing north of the town.
Rami Abdul-Rahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that witnesses counted at least 30 bodies and that dozens of people were wounded. Another group, the Local Coordination Committees, which gathers information from a network of activists across Syria, put the death toll at 55.
Amateur video showed thick black smoke rising near the gas station, which was partially intact. Several vehicles, including a bulldozer and pickup trucks, were on fire. The video, whose authenticity could not be confirmed independently, also showed several damaged cars. A man could be heard shouting "your son is dead."
Both groups quoted witnesses as saying the blast was caused by airstrikes on the gas station.
The Syrian conflict appears to have reached a stalemate. The rebels are holding some territory despite the government's military superiority but have been unable to score decisive victories. At the same time, the international community is averse to getting involved militarily and instead hopes economic sanctions will squeeze the Assad regime.
Meanwhile, the fighting continues.
Across Syria, at least 184 people were killed Thursday, the LCC said, reporting 35 dead in Aleppo, Syria's largest city, and 32 in Damascus and its suburbs. The Observatory put the day's total across Syria at 162. August has been the deadliest month so far in the Syria conflict, with activists saying nearly 5,000 were killed.