By Mark Snowiss, VOA
Parts of Syria's capital were under siege Thursday with Syrian government forces battling rebels in and around Damascus in pitched fighting. Activists reported a campaign of shelling and house-to-house raids in Daraya, on the southwest edge of Damascus, as well as continuing clashes in the city's Hajar al-Aswad district.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebel fighters attacked a military checkpoint on the Daraa-Damascus highway, killing or wounding 10 government troops.
Deaths Across Syria, map dated Aug 16, 2012
The Observatory said clashes also continued Thursday in the northern city of Aleppo, where a number of foreign fighters are reported to have joined the opposition.
Fresh fighting between pro- and anti-Assad gunmen erupted for a fourth day Thursday in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, leaving one dead and at least two wounded. The clashes breached a truce agreed to by political leaders less than 24 hours earlier in a bid to halt fighting fueled by tensions in neighboring Syria.
Sunni Muslims have led the revolt against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, whose minority Alawite sect has mostly stood with him. Sunni-Alawite tensions have been growing in parts of Lebanon as well, like Tripoli, where the two groups live in neighboring districts.
In Ankara, Turkish and U.S. officials are holding their first "operational planning" meeting aimed at bringing about the end of Assad's embattled regime. Thursday's deliberations are expected to coordinate military, intelligence and political responses to the Syrian crisis.
A Turkish foreign ministry official, Halit Cevik, and U.S. Ambassador Elisabeth Jones are leading the delegations made up of intelligence agents, military officials and diplomats.
Meanwhile, the rights group Amnesty International said artillery, mortar fire and airstrikes by Syrian government forces in the northern city of Aleppo are killing mostly civilians, including children.
In a report released Thursday, Amnesty said air and artillery strikes against residential neighborhoods are indiscriminate attacks that seriously endanger civilians.
Government troops and opposition forces have been fighting in Aleppo for a month after rebels took over several neighborhoods.
UN sounds alarm
In New York Wednesday, United Nations political chief Jeffrey Feltman told the Security Council the U.N. views the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in Syria "with growing alarm." He said about 2.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance while the number of displaced people in Syria and the flow of refugees to neighboring countries is growing.
Feltman also accused Iran of supplying Syria with weapons, backing charges by Western officials that Tehran is providing funds, arms and intelligence support to Assad in his bid to crush the opposition. Syrian rebels also say the Islamic Republic has sent Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah fighters to Syria.
The U.N. emergency relief coordinator, Valerie Amos, who was in Syria last week, said U.N. agencies last month provided food for more than 820,000 people across Syria. She said the humanitarian situation there has worsened since a previous visit in March.
Meanwhile, British Prime Minister David Cameron and U.S. President Barack Obama warned Wednesday they would be forced to consider a new course of action if Syria threatens to use chemical weapons on rebel fighters.
The two leaders agreed during a telephone call that "the use - or threat - of chemical weapons was completely unacceptable and would force them to revisit their approach so far."
Some information for this report provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.
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