AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian helicopter gunships fired machineguns to disperse a large pro-democracy protest in the town of Maarat al-Numaan on Friday, witnesses said, in the first reported use of air power to quell protests in Syria's uprising.
"At least five helicopters flew over Maarat al-Numaan and began firing their machineguns to disperse the tens of thousands who marched in the protest," one of the witnesses said.
"People hid in fields, under bridges and in their houses, but the firing continued on the mostly empty streets for hours," said the witnesses, who gave his name as Nawaf.
Maarat al-Numaan is 55 km (35 miles) south of Syria's second city Aleppo on the main highway to Damascus.
It is also 35 km (20 miles) to the southeast of Jisr al-Shughour, the latest town where tanks and troops had been sent to end street protests against the 11 year rule of President Bashar al-Assad.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the helicopters fired at the town after security forces on the ground killed five protesters, but said no killings were reported in the assault by the helicopters.
Observatory director Rami Abdulrahman said a number of residents told him that security forces fled one of their buildings when they saw a large number of demonstrators heading in their direction.
The protesters occupied the building and then helicopters fired "two rockets" on the building, he said.
(Reporting by Yara Bayoumy and Khaled Yacoub Oweis)