Assad's forces, who also pushed into a rebel-held district in the northerly commercial hub of Aleppo on Saturday, targeted pockets of lightly armed rebels, who moved about the streets on foot and attacked security installations and roadblocks.
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Residents said the sound of shelling in the capital was so intense at dusk that they were unable to distinguish it from the traditional cannon blast marking the end of the daily fast for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Opposition activists said helicopters fired rockets into a neighborhood near the southerly Sayida Zeinab district, causing dozens of casualties. They did not have any other details.
Damascus in ruins (Photo: Reuters)
"In Damascus, people continue to search desperately for safety," the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a statement in Geneva.
"Humanitarian needs are growing as the situation in the city worsens and as large numbers of people flee their neighborhoods in search of safe haven. The ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent have intensified their response to the situation."
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group that monitors the violence, said 140 people, including 43 troops, had been killed across Syria on Saturday. Most of them died in the province of Homs, epicenter of the uprising.
One Western diplomat said Assad was moving troops to protect his capital and compared him to a doctor "abandoning the patient's limbs to save the organs."
The army's push in the capital occurred after rebels assassinated four of Assad's top security officials last week as part of a six-day attack in the capital that they dubbed "Damascus Volcano."
Rebels also captured three border crossings with Iraq and Turkey, and on Saturday an Iraqi security source said gunmen appeared to be taking over a fourth at Yarubiya in Syria's Kurdish northeast.
Assad, battling a 16-month-old uprising against his family's four decades of autocratic rule, has not spoken in public since the assassinations, and failed to attend funeral ceremonies for his brother-in-law and two other slain officials on Friday.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was sending his peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous and top military adviser General Babacar Gaye to Syria to assess the situation.
Opposition activists in Aleppo, Syria's biggest city, said hundreds of families were fleeing residential areas on Saturday after the military swept into the Saladin district, which had been in rebel hands for two days.
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