Beirut? Explosions echoed over Damascus on Friday as Syrian troops clashed with rebels in some of the heaviest fighting yet in the capital in the 15-month uprising against President Bashar Assad. Troops also unleashed a heavy assault to retake a rebel-held neighborhood in a central flashpoint city, blasting it with heavy bombardment.
Also Friday, U.N. observers entered a remote farming area where a massacre was reported this week, an activist said, a day after they were blocked from reaching it by troops and local residents and fired upon.
The fighting in Damascus erupted in the restive district of Kfar Souseh, where armed rebels are said to have taken part in a huge anti-government demonstration along with other protesters Thursday night. A witness who spoke on condition of anonymity for security concerns said explosions could be heard throughout central Damascus and that smoke could be seen rising from the area.
Shells were hitting the neighborhood at a rate of five to 10 a minute, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. "It seems they are trying to enter it today," it said.
The reported massacre this week took place in the nearby province of Hama, where about 80 people, including women and children, were shot or stabbed Wednesday in the small farming areas of Mazraat al-Qubair.
A group of U.N. observers entered the area on Friday, visiting a cemetery where some of the dead were buried and then continuing to the site of the killings, according to Leith Al-Hamwy, an activist in Mazraat al-Qubair.
A team that tried to reach the area on Thursday was blocked by troops and local residents and then fired on.