Syria helicopters strike Damascus suburb

A battle to unseat Bashar al-Assad is taking on the character of an all-out civil war.

A small fire smolders (L) at the site of an attack on the pro-government Al-Ikhbariya satellite television channel's offices outside Damascus, which killed three staff on June 27, 2012. Picture: AFP

BEIRUT - Syrian attack helicopters bombarded a suburb of Damascus on Monday and Turkey said it had scrambled warplanes near the border in the north, as a 16-month conflict entered a more violent phase and diplomacy appeared to have failed.

Fighting has come to the gates of the capital in recent weeks and is also raging throughout the country as the battle to unseat President Bashar al-Assad increasingly takes on the character of an all-out civil war, fuelled by sectarian hate.

Syrian government forces have launched an assault on Douma, a city on the edge of Damascus where they stormed a rebel stronghold two days ago leaving bodies rotting in the streets of the nearly abandoned town.

"The bombardment of Douma continued today using helicopters. Some activists entered the city today and they saw at least seven decaying bodies in the streets under the sun. One man had been executed inside his house," said Mohamed Doumany, an activist who fled the city two days ago and was now nearby.

"There is huge destruction in the city, which is almost empty. Only a few of its people remain inside," he told Reuters by Skype.

Diplomats from the West and Arab states who oppose Assad met the Syrian leader's allies Russia and China on Saturday in Geneva under the auspices of peace envoy Kofi Annan. But they made no progress persuading Moscow and Beijing to sign up to a statement calling for Assad to leave power, leaving the effort to forge an international consensus in tatters.

The failure of diplomacy to have any measurable impact on a conflict that the United Nations says has killed more than 13,000 people is testing the patience of countries in the region, especially Turkey, which reacted with fury 10 days ago when Syria shot down one of its warplanes.