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Civilians killed in Syrian airstrikes

Syria launched airstrikes killing at least five civilians as combat rages in Damascus.

FILE PICTURE: Free Syrian Army opposition fighters battle government security forces during the siege of the Shaar district police station in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. Picture: AFP.

BEIRUT - Syrian war planes attacked towns in the country's north and east and killed at least five civilians in a strike on an olive oil press as fighting raged in the capital Damascus on Tuesday, opposition activists said.

The latest fighting follows recent battlefield gains by the rebels in their struggle to topple President Bashar al-Assad, but it is far from clear if a strategic breakthrough is likely.

More than 90 people were killed on Tuesday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group.

Rebels trying to make inroads into the capital battled government forces in the suburb of Kfar Souseh on the edge of the centre of the capital, activists said.

In Aleppo province in the north, rebels shot down a military helicopter, according to video footage posted on YouTube that showed what appeared to be a missile hitting the aircraft.

Security sources and activists have reported a small but growing number of heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles entering Syria, weapons the rebels would need to stand any chance of overcoming Assad's increasing reliance on air power.

The video could be one of the first clear indications that such weapons are in use.

The Local Coordinating Committee opposition group said the Free Syrian Army had downed the helicopter near the Sheikh Suleiman army base, 30 km (20 miles) northwest of the contested city of Aleppo.

More than 40,000 people have been killed in the uprising, activists said.

What began as a series of peaceful protests against four decades of Assad family rule in March last year grew into a bitter civil war with sectarian overtones.

UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, told the UN Security Council on Tuesday that around 450,000 are now believed to have fled Syria, with even more displaced inside the country.

"Destruction, death and suffering have become part of daily life across Syria," Serry said.

"The humanitarian crisis is becoming more acute with the winter upon us and the number of those in need growing, potentially reaching 4 million inside Syria by the end of 2012."

International Syria mediator Lakhdar Brahimi is due to brief the 15-member council on Thursday and the UN General Assembly on Friday.

There is diplomatic deadlock between Western powers, who broadly support the opposition and Assad's supporters Russia and China which have blocked Security Council action.

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