Dire in Damascus

clashes in syrian capital between assad forces and rebels intensify

BEIRUT — Clashes between rebels and government forces erupted for a second day in the Syrian capital today, activists said, in some of the fiercest fighting to hit Damascus since the 17-month-old revolt against President Bashar al-Assad began.

Armoured vehicles rolled into the southern district of Midan and snipers deployed on rooftops, residents said. Heavy machine gun fire could be heard in video uploaded by activists in the area.

“Security forces entered the neighbourhood, there is a real war going on right now,” a resident in Midan said.

The spread of fighting in the capital came as United Nations peace envoy Kofi Annan starts a two-day visit to Moscow. He will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has resisted Western calls to increase pressure on Assad.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov signalled no change in its position on the conflict before talks with Annan.

Lavrov said Western efforts to pass a Security Council resolution to extend the UN monitoring mission in Syria, which includes a threat of sanctions, contained “elements of blackmail”. He called for support of Moscow’s resolution instead, which does not call for sanctions.

“If our partners decide to block our resolution no matter what, then the UN mission will not have a mandate and will have to leave Syria. That would be a pity,” he said.

The monitoring mission was suspended due to rising violence in Syria, where activists say more than 17,000 people have died.

At least five people were killed and dozens more wounded in Sunday’s fighting. Activists said they expected more casualties from the fighting on Monday, but could not give an estimate yet.

Activists said angry protesters blocked the international highway to Jordan in solidarity with the residents of Midan and Zahera neighbourhoods, where there were continued clashes.

Accounts in Syria are difficult to verify because the government has restricted access to international media. (Reuters)

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