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Rebels Claim to Down Syrian Warplane after Airstrike Kills 20

Syrian activists say rebels shot down a warplane Wednesday outside Damascus, a short time after an airstrike killed at least 20 people and wounded dozens in the same area.

Amateur video circulated by the Britain-based London Observatory for Human Rights showed a warplane firing rockets and then plummeting to the ground in Hamouriya after apparently being hit by rebel machine gun fire. The shoot-down could not be independently verified.

A separate live webcam broadcast showed an entire city block of the Hamouriya district engulfed in fire as young men dug through rubble looking for survivors.

Earlier Wednesday, the state-run SANA news agency said two mortar shells struck near a stadium complex in Damascus, killing a soccer player.

The shells exploded outside a hotel housing soccer players next to the Tishrin stadium. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Rebel sources claimed to have targeted pro-government Ba'ath Party offices in the capital, but say the mortar fire missed the intended target.

On Tuesday, rebel mortar fire struck near one of President Bashar al-Assad's Damascus palaces. The strike was the first confirmed by the government close to a presidential building. No injuries were reported, but the attack was widely seen as bolstering witness claims that fighting in Syria's civil war is reaching into areas of the capital once thought safe.

In a related development, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow and the Arab League are trying to establish direct contact between the Assad regime and rebel fighters. Lavrov, speaking in Moscow, also said that neither the Assad government nor rebels can pursue a military solution to the conflict without the risk of mutual destruction.

Russia has used its veto power in the United Nations Security Council to block three proposed resolutions against the Assad government, stressing the need for Syria to find an end to the fighting without foreign interference.

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