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Clashes Near Syrian Government Headquarters In Damascus

A video grab shows smoke billowing from burning tires and trash containers in the Al-Hajar Al-Aswad district of Damascus on July 18.
Syrian army troops and opposition fighters were battling near the government headquarters in Damascus July 19, one day after a bomb attack in the capital killed at least three members of President Bashar al-Assad's inner circle.

Residents of Damascus say the Syrian Army was firing artillery into neighborhoods of the capital where government forces have been fighting rebels since July 15.

The shelling of neighborhoods like Tadamon and Midan forced hundreds of residents to flee on July 19. Reports said pro-Assad militia fighters, called "shabbiha," also were conducting raids in opposition strongholds of the capital.

Syria's military, vowing to "cleanse Damascus of terrorists" by the time Ramadan was expected to begin on July 20, told residents of embattled neighborhoods that they have 48 hours to leave.

Meanwhile, Syrian state television claimed it is rebel gunmen who are attacking residents of the capital while wearing military uniforms with the insignia of the Islamic Republican Guards Corps (IRGC) as disguises.

Opposition activists deny those reports, saying pro-regime forces are carrying out "revenge attacks" for the bomb on July 18 that killed the defense minister and his deputy, Assad's brother-in-law, as well as Syria's crisis management chief.

Interior Minister Ibrahim al-Shaar and National Security chief General Hisham Ikhtiyar reportedly were seriously injured by the blast.

The head of the opposition Syrian National Council, Abdelbasset Sida, said late on July 18 that the bombing was a "turning point" in the uprising against Assad's regime -- which the UN estimates has killed at least 17,000 people.

"[July 18] is a turning point in Syria's history," Sida said. "The group targeted [by the bombing] are the same people who were behind the killings of Syrians in the last 16 months. We think Syrians are relieved after this attack."

Assad has not made any public statement or appearance since the July 18 bomb attack, and his whereabouts were not clear.

According to unconfirmed claims by opposition sources and a Western diplomat, Assad left Damascus shortly after the assassinations and traveled to the coastal city of Latakia, where he was directing a military response to the killings.

A senior aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin denied reports on July 19 that Moscow has been discussing the possibility of taking in Assad if he flees Syria.

Russian foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov said there had been no talks about where Assad might go if he leaves Syria.

Major General Robert Mood, head of a three-month UN monitoring mission that ends on July 20, warned that violence in Syria is spiraling beyond control.

The UN Security Council was expected later on July 19 to debate a new draft resolution on Syria.

But Russia and China have said they would veto any proposal that threatening sanctions or that could eventually lead to the use of international forces against Assad's regime.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP