Battles in Damascus intensify
Helicopters were for the first time in action in Damascus, firing in neighborhoods Monday night and Tuesday, according to NGOs and witnesses. Since Sunday night, fighting in the capital has been taking place in several suburbs.
Last night, the district of Qaboun was targeted by gunfire "from helicopters" while fighting took place in the neighborhoods of Aassali, Hajar al-Aswad and Qadam (south of the capital) , the source said. According to Qaboun activist who calls himself Omar, "the troops of Bashar Assad tried to storm the area but the area was fiercely defended" by the (rebels) of the free Syrian Army (FSA) . "They bombed the current transformers in the neighborhood after midnight," he said, indicating that the wounded could not be evacuated because of the presence of snipers.
In Jaramana, a suburb in the southeast of the capital, residents heard gunfire Monday evening until midnight. They also heard at dawn the sound of helicopters.
Bursts of automatic weapons were heard Tuesday in the heart of Damascus, near the Sabeh Bahrat square, eyewitnesses said. According to them, "members of the security forces, armed with Kalashnikovs, ran across this place" where the headquarters of the Central Bank are located. Other shots were also heard in Baghdad street.
In Midane neighborhood, in downtown Damascus, was also "under mortar fire Tuesday and fighting were reported between rebels and regular troops," according to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights (SOHR). A big black smoke was visible above Midane, witnesses said.
According to an activist who calls himself Abu Musab, "the army tried to enter Midane but the (rebels) have stopped them. So the soldiers have stepped up the bombing". "They shoot at anything and just destroyed the Ghazwat Badr mosque," he said, adding there are reports of many injuries and "lack of doctors to treat them." "The regime (of Assad) that collapses goes crazy," he added.
Repression and fighting left 149 dead Monday, including 82 civilians, 41 soldiers and 26 rebels, according to SOHR.
The rebels also announced Monday night in a video that they are taking control of Talbisse, a town near Homs not far from the Lebanese border. The SOHR said Tuesday that insurgents were able to control "all security posts" in this town, which was long bombarded by regular forces.
On the diplomatic front, the Russians and Westerners "are on the threshold of an acute confrontation" on Syria, Russian media said Tuesday, before a meeting in Moscow between Vladimir Putin and international mediator Kofi Annan. "According to our information, the Kremlin opposes all that hard line on Syria," the Kommersant daily wrote. "On the eve of talks between UN and the Arab League envoy Kofi Annan and President Vladimir Putin, the foreign minister Sergei Lavrov made a series of statements with an unprecedented hardness ", said Kommersant.
Kommersant said that at a meeting last week with Russian diplomats, Vladimir Putin ordered them to "defend international law, whatever the cost".
The Vedomosti daily said, meanwhile, that the position of Russia has changed dramatically since the Libyan crisis. "Exactly one year ago, when civil war raged in Syria but not in Libya, Lavrov had said the same about the Libyan leader: "Gaddafi must go, he has no place in the new Libya,'" recalls Vedomosti. "International law has not changed since," Vedomosti observed, "it is Russia that changed." " It is now Vladimir Putin at the helm , "said Vedomosti. The Russian president said that "leaders have the right to retain power by any means possible, whatever the international community thinks," says this newspaper, which is very critical of the Kremlin.