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Fighting rages in Syrian capital

Government troops used helicopter gunships and artillery to target rebel fighters in Damascus.

Government troops used helicopter gunships and artillery to target rebel fighters in Damascus.

BEIRUT - Syrian rebels and government troops clashed in central Damascus for a third day in the fiercest fighting inside the capital since the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad erupted last year, but neither side appeared able to deliver a decisive blow.

Government troops also used helicopter gunships and artillery to target rebel fighters in the northern and southern outskirts and rebels said they had killed 70 security forces and pro-Assad militiamen known as shabbiha over the past 24 hours.

The encroachment of violence into the capital comes as United Nations envoy Kofi Annan visits Moscow to promote a peace plan for Syria. He will meet President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, but Russia still appears resistant to Western calls for Moscow to increase pressure on Assad.

Video uploaded by opposition activists showed Damascus buildings and shops that were set ablaze by what they said was rocket and artillery fire. One showed a grocer sweeping out the scorched contents of his shop as smoke still rose from the back.

"I couldn't sleep at all. There was shelling with artillery and helicopter gunships from midnight until 6 in the morning. They didn't stop firing for a single minute," said a Damascus resident, contacted from Beirut by telephone.

"They were using artillery, helicopter gunships and mortars. At dawn you could hear the call to prayer mixed with the sound of gunfire. Now we can hear clashes with heavy machinegun fire. Helicopters are hovering over the area."

Clashes continued in Midan district and artillery and rocket fire also hit the opposition area of Tadamon, on the outskirts of the capital, they said.