BEIRUT // Heavy clashes were reported between Syrian government troops and rebels in Damascus yesterday, as the fighting again made its way to the centre of President Bashar Al Assad's power.
Activists and residents reported some of the fiercest fighting in the capital since the uprising against the Al Assad regime began 15 months ago. There were no immediate reports of casualties, but the clashes were said to have spread from the district of Kfar Souseh.
"The gunfire is so loud I think some bullets could have hit the house. I'm afraid to go outside to see what is happening," said one resident in the Mezze neighbourhood.
Earlier yesterday, a car bomb exploded in the suburb of Qadsiya, killing two members of the security forces, according to activists. These reports could not be independently verified.
Meanwhile, more accounts and video purporting to show the aftermath of a massacre in the village of Qubeir emerged yesterday, as a team of United Nations observers reached the site. Paul Danahar, a BBC correspondent travelling with the UN convoy, reported seeing gutted buildings in Qubeir and no sign of life. "The stench of burnt flesh is still strong," he wrote in a message on Twitter, and quoted activists as saying government forces had removed the bodies of the victims on Thursday while the observers were being hindered from reaching the village.
Opposition activists have said at least 78 people, including children, were shot or stabbed to death in Qubeir earlier this week, the latest mass killings reported in Syria.
The international monitors came under fire on Thursday when they tried to reach the village near Hama and were prevented from entering.
As the violence rages in Syria, diplomatic efforts to bring about a resolution to the crisis continued yesterday. Fred Hof, the US secretary of state Hillary Clinton's special adviser on Syria, was in Moscow for talks, as Washington stepped up pressure on Russia to support a political transition that would see Mr Al Assad step down from power.
Diplomats at the UN said yesterday that Britain, France and the US were expected to quickly draw up a new Security Council resolution proposing sanctions against Syria.
The reports came after Kofi Annan, the UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria, said there must be "clear consequences" for the Syrian government if it does not comply with his peace plan.
Russia and China have twice vetoed stronger action against the Al Assad regime in the Security Council.
Yesterday, Mr Annan called for "additional pressure" on the Syrian regime and opposition forces to move ahead with the peace plan that has so far failed to curb the violence.
"Some say the plan may be dead. Is the problem the plan or the problem implementation? If it's implementation, how do we get action on that? And if it's the plan, what other options do we have?," Mr Annan said before a meeting with Mrs Clinton yesterday.
"So all these questions are now being discussed, and we are also exploring how we can work with other governments in the region and around the world to achieve our goals."
The humanitarian situation inside Syria is worsening, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which yesterday said more people are being forced to flee their homes to escape the fighting.
"Currently the situation is extremely tense, not only in Houla, not only in Hama, but in many, many places around the country," ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan told reporters yesterday in Geneva, naming locations including the northern province of Idlib, the coastal area of Latakia and the suburbs around Damascus.
The ICRC estimates 1.5 million people have been directly or indirectly affected by the conflict and the drought in the north-east of Syria.
"We're receiving regular reports from people facing more and more difficulty in access to essential medical services, and this has increased, to medical treatment, and to food, including bread," Mr Hassan said.
Anti-government demonstrations were reported in various parts of the country yesterday including the northern provinces of Idlib and Aleppo, the southern region of Deraa and suburbs of Damascus.
About 600,000 people took part in marches in the province of Hama yesterday, said a Syrian opposition activist in Turkey.
"There were protests all over the province," Omar Shawaf said, adding that Syrian security forces bombarded parts of Latakia after protests there.
"Half of Latakia is under fire. Protests are growing by the day."
* With additional reporting by Thomas Seibert, Reuters, Agence France-Presse and the Associated Press