The downing came at the strategic Sheikh Suleiman base, 25km west of Aleppo, the last garrison in government hands between Syria’s second city and the Turkish border.
Amateur footage posted by activists on YouTube (below) showed a helicopter plunging to the ground in a ball of flames as fighters shouted: “We hit it, God is greatest.”
It is reportedly the first time that opposition fighters have shot down a helicopter with a surface-to-air missile, in what a watchdog said could be a turning point in the 20-month-old conflict.
“It is the first time that the rebels have shot down a helicopter with a surface-to-air missile,” Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said of the gunship.
A car bomb hit a regime security post near Damascus and clashes raged around the capital, as fighters further tightened the noose around the key northern city of Aleppo. A watchdog said 105 people were killed Tuesday across the country.
The Observatory said the missile was part of a consignment newly received by the opposition fighters that had the potential to change the balance of military power in the conflict.
Little more than a week ago, the opposition fighters seized tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, 120-mm mortars and rocket launchers when they took the government forces’ sprawling Base 46, about 12 kilometers (eight miles) west of Aleppo.
The fighters, a mix of military defectors and armed civilians, are vastly outgunned but analysts say they are now stretching thin the capabilities of Assad’s war machine and its air supremacy by opening multiple fronts.
This was evident again on Tuesday, with a car bomb killing at least two soldiers at a military police checkpoint at Jdeidet Artuz near Damascus as the regime pursued insurgents south of the capital.
Battles also raged in Moadamiyet al-Sham and nearby Daraya, where a massacre in August killed more than 500 people, according to the Observatory.
In the north, the main battleground of the conflict, opposition fighters seized a military post 15 kilometers southeast of Aleppo, tightening the noose around the city, both the insurgents and the Observatory said.
After hours of fighting, the opposition fighters in the area said they had taken the post at the village of Al-Mintar, near Al-Safireh.
The operation was carried out by the Islamist group Ahrar al-Sham which fights alongside but is not part of the mainstream Free Syrian Army, they said.
Seventy soldiers were killed or captured, and the opposition fighters seized six 23-mm cannons, rocket batteries and other weapons and ammunition, they added.
It came a day after insurgents took control of a dam in an area connecting Aleppo and Raqa provinces, leaving the regime with only the highway from Damascus to send reinforcements, according to Abdel Rahman.
Elsewhere, in Idlib province in the northwest, an aerial bombardment near an olive press killed at least five people, the Observatory said.