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Heavy Fighting Reported in Syrian Capital

Damaged houses are seen during a heavy firefight that broke out between rebels and the Syrian government army at the western neighborhood of al-Mezze in Damascus, March 19, 2012
Damaged houses are seen during a heavy firefight that broke out between rebels and the Syrian government army at the western neighborhood of al-Mezze in Damascus, March 19, 2012

Syrian security forces have clashed with rebels in an upscale area of Damascus in one of the worst gunbattles the tightly-controlled city has seen since the start of the country's year-long uprising.

Periodic outbursts of gunfire and a series of explosions came through the night in the fashionable Mazzeh district of Damascus.

Syrian state television showed images of several apartments on the upper floors of a residential building that appeared to have been hit by rockets. A woman who said she is a resident of the building told state television that a government operation flushed out “terrorists” living upstairs.

She said that government forces told her that strange people were using upper floors of the building. She said she heard a loud noise from her ground-floor apartment and locked her doors and windows when shooting began.

An officer in the rebel forces, the Free Syrian Army, told Alhurrah television that they battled government troops in the district.

The officer said the operation sends a message to the regime that the Free Syrian Army is operating in Damascus, as well as other Syrian cities. He said the FSA is conducting a limited number of operations due to a shortage of arms.

Syrian authorities say the opposition is made up of terrorist gangs carrying out a foreign conspiracy to topple President Bashar al-Assad.

Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches political science at the University of Paris, said a number of high-level regime figures live in the Mazzeh district. He added that violence is hitting parts of the capital that were once secure.

Diab said people who live in Damascus say they have not been sleeping well for the past week and have been taking refuge. With Free Syrian Army forces inside some neighborhoods of Damascus, Diab said the Syrian government may be starting to lose control of part of the capital.

Also Monday, wintnesses said dozens of government tanks stormed the eastern city of Deir al-Zor to seize major districts held by rebels of the Free Syrian Army.

On the diplomatic front, a mission sent by U.N.-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan arrived in Damascus for talks on a monitoring operation to end the bloodshed.  Mr. Annan is a former United Nations secretary-general.

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