Activists: Car bomb explodes in north Syria town

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BEIRUT (AP) — A car bomb exploded in a northern Syrian town near the Turkish border Saturday, killing and wounding a number of people hours after Syrian rebels shot down a helicopter gunship over a slum in the northern city of Aleppo, activists said.

The Aleppo Media Center said the car bomb exploded in a vegetable market in the town of Azaz near the border with Turkey. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the car blew up near a gas station. The Observatory said the blast killed at least four people and wounded several others while the AMC said it killed and wounded a number of people but had no immediate figures.

Car bombs have claimed the lives of hundreds of people since the Syrian uprising began three years ago. The government and the opposition have traded blame for the deadly attacks.

Earlier in the day, the Observatory said the helicopter was shot down with a missile Friday night over a poor area of town known as Camp Nairab. Camp Nairab is adjacent to the Nairab military airport southeast of the city, where aircraft take off to carry out attacks in northern Syria.

Helicopters are used by President Bashar Assad's forces to drop barrel bombs — crude explosives that have killed thousands of people and caused widespread destruction, especially in Aleppo.

Rebels have rarely succeeded in downing helicopters, and have long requested anti-aircraft weapons from Western and Arab nations. The United States and its allies have refused, fearing that such weapons could fall into the hands of extremists, who could use them to target passenger planes.

The Observatory and an Aleppo-based activist who goes by the name Abu Saeed Izzedine said the helicopter crash killed four people, including a child. The Observatory said three of the dead were the helicopter's crew members.

Aleppo, once Syria's commercial capital, has seen heavy fighting since rebels seized part of the city in 2012.

The Observatory also reported Saturday that the number of soldiers killed over the past few days in a northern military base that was overrun by the extremist Islamic State group has risen to 85. It said the fate of 200 other soldiers is still unknown.

The monitoring group, which relies on a network of activists inside the country, said Islamic State fighters have executed and paraded the bodies of "tens" of soldiers in the northern city of Raqqa, the only provincial capital out of government control.

Amateur videos posted online by activists showed more than a dozen beheaded bodies in a busy square said to be in Raqqa. Some of the heads were placed on a nearby fence, where at least two headless bodies were crucified.

The video appeared genuine and corresponded to other AP reporting of the events.

On social media sites that support the Islamic State group, activists posted photographs from inside the military base known as Division 17 showing fighters in control of several tanks, trucks and ammunition boxes.

Syria's uprising began in the form of peaceful Arab Spring-inspired protests in March 2011 but escalated into an armed revolt when government forces launched a sweeping crackdown on dissent. The country is now in the grip of a complex civil war in which myriad armed groups, including Islamic extremists, are fighting government forces and rival rebels.

Syria's conflict has killed at least 170,000 people, nearly a third of them civilians, according to activists. Nearly three million Syrians have fled the country.