Syria’s rebels declared the battle to "liberate" Damascus has begun as heavy fighting raged across the city yesterday and Russia said an agreement is possible for a UN resolution on the Syria crisis.
The proclamation by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) came as UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan said the 16-month crisis now increasingly described as a civil war was at a "critical time."
Heavy machinegun fire was reported in Damascus’s Sabaa Bahrat Square, where President Bashar Al Assad’s regime has staged rallies to counter anti-regime protests that erupted in March 2011.
Tanks and helicopter gunships were deployed in the Qaboon neighbourhood, while battles were fought in Al Midan and Al Hajar Al Aswad, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Eight people, all but one civilians, were killed in Damascus, the Britain-based watchdog said.
As the clashes inched closer to the regime’s nerve centre, FSA spokesman Colonel Kassem Sa’ad Al Deen said "victory is nigh" and that the fight would go on until all Damascus was conquered.
"We have transferred the battle from Damascus province to the capital. We have a clear plan to control the whole of Damascus. We only have light weapons, but it’s enough."
"Expect surprises," Al Deen added, without elaborating.
Backed by tanks and helicopter gunships, the army pounded the neighbourhood with mortar and heavy machinegun fire, he said.
An activist who said he was in Al Midan said the army was shelling the neighbourhood "hysterically."
"The collapsing regime has gone mad," the man calling himself Abu Musab said via Skype.
"The army has tried to storm the district, but the Free Syrian Army has stopped them. So they have intensified their shelling. They are shelling everything," he said, adding that Gazwat Badr mosque had been destroyed.
The Israeli army’s intelligence chief said Al Assad has moved troops from the Golan Heights next to Israel towards Damascus and other internal conflict zones.
In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin told Annan he would "do everything" to support the former UN chief’s plan to end the conflict.
Meanwhile, Nawaf Fares, who became the most prominent figure to abandon Al Assad when he defected as Syria’s ambassador to Iraq, warned the regime will use chemical weapons against opposition forces and may have already deployed it.