BEIRUT // Fighting between rebels and government troops was reported in parts of Damascus for a third day yesterday as the Muslim Brotherhood called on the Syrian people to back the opposition.
The Islamist group urged Syrians to support rebel fighters in the capital and to hold demonstrations against the regime of Bashar Al Assad.
"Prepare to become soldiers in the decisive battle. You will secure victory with your own two hands," said the Brotherhood, which is banned in Syria.
"Our battle is now in Damascus … and this requires that we mobilise all the forces and all our efforts to secure victory."
Sustained fighting has been reported since Sunday in parts of the capital including the neighbourhoods of Midan, Kfar Souseh and Qadam. Before this week there had only been sporadic clashes in Damascus since the uprising began 16 months ago.
Some anti-government activists said the intensifying violence in Damascus marked a turning point in the revolt.
Yesterday, Sana, the Syrian state news agency, referred to the clashes, saying that authorities "confronted an armed terrorist group" in the neighbourhood of Naher Aisha and another near Midan.
Residents in some of the hardest hit areas, including Midan, were reported to have fled to safer parts of the city, but one Damascus resident said that nowhere in the capital feels safe at the moment.
A mother-of-two who lives in the Mezeh area of the capital said the sound of helicopters, shelling and explosions could be heard throughout yesterday. "People are very scared and are cursing the regime and the revolution," she said.
One rebel solider said they were continuing to fight because they had no way to retreat to safer areas. "If they could leave, they would," he said.
The rebel Free Syrian Army said yesterday it shot down helicopter gunship in the Damascus area of Qaboon. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that "according to several witnesses, a helicopter fell after being hit by several rebel shots".
The Local Coordination Committees (LCC), an opposition group, yesterday reported that residents in Qaboon were sending out SOS messages and calling for medical help.
Violence was also reported in other parts of the country including Idlib, Deraa and Zabadani, a town outside Damascus that the LCC said was under its heaviest bombardment since the start of the uprising.
The LCC reported at least 45 people killed yesterday across Syria, including 14 in Damascus.
General Manaf Tlass, a key defector from the Al Assad regime, said in a statement yesterday that he was in Paris and called for a "constructive transition" in the country. He said he wanted Syria "to emerge from the crisis through a phase of constructive transition" and expressed his "anger and pain at seeing the army pushed to carry out a fight that is against its principles".
The United Nations-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan met the Russian president Vladimir Putin yesterday amid efforts to broker a united international plan to end the crisis.
"From the very start, from the first steps, we supported and continue to support your efforts aimed at restoring civil peace," Mr Putin told Mr Annan at the start of the talks.
"We will do everything that depends on us to support your efforts."
Mr Annan's visit to Russia comes ahead of a key UN Security Council vote, due to be held today, on a western-backed draft resolution that calls for harsher sanctions against the Syrian regime.
The draft invokes Chapter Seven of the UN Charter, which opens the possibility for measures including military force.
Russia and China have previously blocked tougher actions against Syria, but have said they support Mr Annan's peace plan, which has failed to stop the violence.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, yesterday called for unified Security Council action on Syria as he arrived for a visit to Beijing.
"The UN Security Council needs to be united and take action," said Mr Ban, who is expected to hold talks with the Chinese president. Hu Jintao, today.
China's official People's Daily newspaper ran a commentary yesterday voicing strong opposition to the use of force against Syria - an indication that China may again veto the latest Security Council resolution.
"A political solution is the only way out of the Syrian problem," the commentary said.
Yesterday, a spokesman for Iran's foreign ministry, Ramin Mehmanparast also warned against foreign intervention in Syria. Iran - which along with China and Russia remains one of Syria's main allies - has offered to host a meeting between the Al Assad regime and the opposition.
"Iran is prepared to use all its capacities to resolve the crisis in Syria," Mr Mehmanparast said.
Just days after the International Committee of the Red Cross said that it now considers Syria to be in a state of civil war, the Iraqi government has urged its citizens in the country to return home.
Ali Al Dabbagh, a government spokesman, said there had been an increase in killings and assaults on Iraqis in Syria, a country to which thousands of Iraqis fled during the height of that country's recent conflict.
* With additional reporting by the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse