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Syrian rebels claim to shoot down government helicopter (+video)

A Syrian army helicopter has crashed in Damascus, the government says. The opposition says rebels shot it out of the sky. Meanwhile, reports are surfacing that a massacre took place in Daraya.

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Clashes are raging across Syria as the 17-month-old rebellion grows increasingly bloody, particularly in Aleppo, Syria's biggest city and its economic hub, where the army and rebels appear stuck in a war of attrition.

Fighting in the northern city on Sunday was the heaviest in the past week, according to Reuters journalists there. Helicopters were circling and firing occasionally on Monday.

Reuters journalists saw a fighter jet fire on an eastern neighborhood of the city for two hours. Activists said southern districts of Aleppo were also repeatedly attacked on Monday.

"The front line has not changed. We cannot progress due to a lack of ammunition," said Abu Walid, a rebel commander in Aleppo. "All we can do is hold our positions."

Rebels say they control at least half the city of 2.5 million, but their hold is fragile since Assad's forces can unleash their air power and artillery against fighters who are comparatively lightly armed.

Assad, who met an Iranian parliamentary delegation in the capital on Sunday, said the crisis was the result of Western and regional states trying to crush Syria's role in the "resistance" against Western and Israeli domination in the region.

The United Nations says more than 18,000 people have been killed in the conflict that pits a mainly Sunni opposition against a ruling system dominated by the Assad family and other members of the Alawite faith, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.

Diplomatic efforts to stop the violence in Syria are stalled by a stalemate between Western countries, Sunni-led Gulf Arab states and Turkey - which all support the opposition - and Shi'ite Iran, which backs Assad, as do Russia and China.

With veto-wielding Russia leading resistance to action against Assad, the U.N. Security Council remains deadlocked.

Egypt is seeking to arrange a four-way meeting with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran, the main regional heavyweights. Iran, a Shi'ite power, is Assad's main backer, while Saudi Arabia is believed to be supplying weapons to the rebels.

Syria's minister for national reconciliation was quoted by an Iranian news agency as praising Tehran's support and saying: "We face armed parties acting within the framework of an American-Israeli conspiracy, and we will destroy them, because they are trying to degrade Syria by causing internal and tribal wars.

"America and Israel have plans which are carried out through Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey," the minister, Ali Heidar, said.

He urged Egypt, now led by a Sunni Islamist president after decades of Western-backed military rule, to distance itself from those states hostile to Damascus if it wanted to broker a peace.

IN PICTURES: Conflict in Syria

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