DAMASCUS: Syrian forces launched an all-out assault on opposition strongholds in Damascus, a day after rebels seized crossings on the Iraq and Turkey borders on the 16-month conflict's deadliest day so far.
Rebel fighters also clashed with troops in several neighbourhoods of Aleppo in what the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said was the fiercest fighting so far in Syria's second city.
At a closed meeting with top ministers, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Western powers not to take action against the Syrian government outside the auspices of the Security Council, Russian news agencies reported. "In the opinion of the Russian president, any attempts to act outside the UN Security Council will be ineffective and only undermine the authority of this international organisation," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying.
In Syria, state television trumpeted the news of the military's Damascus offensive. "Our brave army forces have completely cleansed the area of Midan in Damascus of the remaining mercenary terrorists and have re-established security," it said, using the regime term for rebels. Reporters taken on a regime-organised trip of Midan saw three bodies, empty streets, shuttered shops and buildings pockmarked with bullet holes.
A security source told AFP the military has launched a general offensive in Damascus.
A state funeral was held for the three in Damascus on Friday ahead of their burials in their native provinces, the official SANA news agency reported, adding that Vice President Faruq al-Shara had attended but not Assad himself.
After Wednesday's bombing, a security source warned that the regime would step up its operations against the rebels. "The army has so far exercised restraint in its operations, but after the attack, it has decided to use all the weapons in its possession to finish the terrorists off," the source said.
A security source told AFP the army was now in control of the Damascus neighbourhoods of Midan, Tadamon, Qaboon and Barzeh, while fierce clashes were reported in other districts including Jubar, Mazzeh and Kfar Susa.
The Observatory also reported intense fighting in several neighbourhoods of Aleppo and said troops opened fire on a large demonstration in the city, Syria's's commercial centre. It said 16 people were killed in Aleppo, 10 of them civilians. They were among 128 people dead nationwide, including 85 civilians, at least seven of them children.
The deaths came after 302 people were killed on Thursday, according to the Observatory, making it the deadliest day of the uprising so far. Clashes took place even on Syria's frontiers, activists and witnesses said. An AFP photographer reported that FSA fighters fought a raging battle with Syrian troops at the Bab al-Hawa border post with Turkey and that some 150 rebels controlled the crossing on Friday.
Meanwhile, another Syrian general has crossed into Turkey, bringing to 22 the number of generals who have fled the unrest in Syria, a foreign ministry diplomat told AFP Friday. "Ten officers including one general fled to Turkey overnight" late Thursday, said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. Turkey has given sanctuary to dozens of defectors who have formed the Free Syrian Army in opposition to President Bahsar al-Assad's regime