BEIRUT

- Syrian rebels shot down a military helicopter in the country's east, killing eight government troops on board as President Bashar Assad's troops battled opposition forces inside a sprawling military air base in the north for the second straight day, activists said yesterday.

The downing of the helicopter was a welcome victory for rebels fighting to oust Assad as the two sides remain locked in stalemate in the more than 2-year-old conflict.

In Geneva, a U.N. commission probing alleged war crimes and other abuses in Syria yesterday distanced itself from claims by one of its members that Syrian rebels have used the nerve agent sarin, but not the regime.

The panel said it has no conclusive evidence about the alleged use of sarin as chemical weapons.

Firm: U.S. immigration reform will cost $6.3T

WASHINGTON - A bipartisan Senate immigration bill would cost the government a net $6.3 trillion over the next 50 years to provide benefits for millions of people now living in the U.S. illegally, the Heritage Foundation said in a report yesterday, setting off a fierce dispute with fellow conservatives who attacked the study as flawed and political.

The Heritage study said immigrants granted new legal status under the bill would eat up more than $9 trillion in health, education, retirement and other benefits over their lifetime, while contributing only about $3 trillion in taxes.

Republicans and conservative groups who support the bill quickly countered that the study failed to measure broader economic benefits from an immigration overhaul, including a more robust workforce that would boost the gross domestic product.

German cops arrest former Nazi guard, 93

BERLIN - German authorities say they have arrested a 93-year-old alleged former Auschwitz guard who once lived in the United States on suspicion of accessory to murder.

Hans Lipschis was taken into custody yesterday after prosecutors concluded there was "compelling evidence" he was involved in crimes at Auschwitz while there from 1941 to 1945.

Lipschis acknowledges he served with the Nazi SS in the notorious death camp, but claims he was only a cook. Lipschis was deported from the U.S. in 1983 for lying about his Nazi past when he immigrated to Chicago in the 1950s after the war.

Factory victim's widow files murder complaint

DHAKA, Bangladesh

- Bangladeshi police are investigating possible murder charges against the owner of a shoddily built factory that collapsed nearly two weeks ago after the wife of a garment worker crushed in the accident filed a complaint.

The development comes as officials said yesterday that the death toll from the country's worst industrial disaster had reached 675.

Sheuli Akter, the wife of Jahangir Alam, filed the complaint with Dhaka magistrate Wasim Sheikh, saying her husband and other workers were "pushed toward death" by building owner Mohammed Sohel Rana and two others.

Internet sales-tax bill gets 69-27 Senate OK

WASHINGTON - The Senate sided with traditional retailers and financially strapped state and local governments yesterday by passing a bill that would widely subject online shopping - for many a largely tax-free frontier - to state sales taxes.

The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 69 to 27, getting support from Republicans and Democrats alike. But opposition from some conservatives who view it as a tax increase will make it a tougher sell in the House. President Barack Obama has conveyed his support for the measure.

Under current law, states can only require retailers to collect sales taxes if the store has a physical presence in the state.

Secrecy abounds in WikiLeaks trial

FORT MEADE, Md.

- Government secrecy reaches a new level this week in the court-martial of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, an intelligence analyst who sent 700,000 classified U.S. documents to the WikiLeaks website.

A military judge, Col. Denise Lind, has ordered what prosecutors say is an unprecedented closed hearing tomorrow at Fort Meade to help her decide how much of Manning's upcoming trial should be closed to protect national security.

An unidentified prosecution witness will testify during that closed hearing in a "dry run." Defense attorneys say that could allow the judge to find ways to avoid closing the courtroom to the public during the presentation of classified evidence.

-Daily News wire services