Government tanks and troops have flooded the streets of Damascus, RT sources say. Earlier reports of districts being bombarded by armed helicopters, however, were denied.
Damascus residents and activists told Reuters that government forces launched an incursion against emboldened rebel forces in several districts of the capital city. RT’s Oksana Boyko reported that the capital city was swarming with tanks.
Activists reported that elite Fourth Division soldiers were laying siege to the neighborhood of Barzeh and have driven rebel troops out of the Mezze district.
Fighting also continues to rage on in Syria’s main commercial hub of Aleppo, where Assad forces clashed with rebels from the Free Syria Army (FSA). Rebels said in a video statement that the fighting was part of a campaign to “liberate Aleppo.” Syrian state news agency SANA reports that authorities killed over a dozen “terrorists” in and around the city.
The government offensive comes after a six-day rebel assault in Damascus, which culminated in the assassination of four top security officials in a bomb attack on Wednesday.
Additionally, rebel forces occupied border crossing zones near Iraq and Turkey on Saturday.
President Bashar Assad has refrained from commenting on the latest spate of violence in the country's capital city, but met with Ali Abdullah Ayyoub, the country’s new Chief of General Staff, on Sunday, according to photos released by Syrian state news agency SANA.
Meanwhile, the UN Security Council has unanimously voted to extend the UN observer mission for another 30 days past its mandate.
The international community has thus far been unable to agree on a resolution to the conflict that has wracked the country for the past 17 months. The UK-based group The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that the death toll from the conflict is at least 17,000. The UN puts the total at over 15,000.
Dr. Ali Mohammed, editor in chief of the independent Syria Tribune, believes that the rebel incursions on Assad strongholds are not serious enough to pose a threat to the regime.
“These are guerrilla fights happening inside inhabited streets and neighborhoods, and this is why they are taking too long to be cleared by the Syrian army,” he told RT. “But they still, so far don’t pose a serious threat to the Syrian government. They do, on the other hand, pose a serious threat to the Syrian people, who are being forced to flee their homes.”
Mohammed stressed that the Syrian rebels have been resorting to media manipulation tactics by stating that they had begun an operation to “liberate” Aleppo.
“To liberate the city from its own people, that’s what they mean, actually,” he noted. “So far, for the past 15 months, Aleppo has shown nothing but great support to the Syrian government and to the president, and this was manifested by huge rallies several times. It is the same media manipulation tactics that they have been using since the beginning.”
On the broader stage, Israel is calling to curb any risk that Syria's alleged chemical weapons could fall into the wrong hands in the event Assad’s regime collapses.
"Could you imagine Hezbollah, the people who are conducting with Iran all these terror attacks around the world – could you imagine them having chemical weapons? It would be like al-Qaida having chemical weapons," Netanyahu said as quoted by US media.
Netanyahu said Israel “will have to act if the need arises.” The need might arise if the Syrian government collapses, but not necessarily if it simply changes, remarked the Israeli PM.
But Dr. Ibrahim Alloush, a political analyst at Zaytouneh University in Amman, Jordan, believes the latest statements serve as nothing but an Israeli excuse for direct military intervention in Syria, even if Netanyahu says Israel has not considered specifically trying to penetrate Syria to seize the weapons.
“In phase one, there was talk about the violation of human rights, and internal instability was used as an excuse for direct military intervention,” he told RT. “Russia and China blocked that over and over, so they have moved now to arguing that the situation in Syria is so unstable that there is a danger that weapons of mass destruction could fall into the wrong hands.”