The Free Syrian Army's military council has said its forces are in control of neighborhoods on the outskirts of the capital, Damascus, amid reports of mortar and small-arms fire as close as three kilometers from the city center.
A spokesman for the Free Syrian Army's military council, Ahmed al-Khitab, said the Al-Midan and Tadamon districts are "out of the [government's] control." Khitab's claim could not be independently verified, but reports said rebels were firing at tanks in Damascus residential areas in what was described as the worst fighting in the the area since violence erupted in March 2011.
Jacob Hussein, an activist with the opposition Local Coordination Council, said an entire police battalion in Tadamon defected to the opposition on July 15, another claim that could not be independently verified. Hussein said fighting in the Tadamon district had spilled over into neighboring areas. Hussein boldly predicted the fighting in Damascus was "the beginning of the end" for the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Government forces were reportedly attacking opposition groups in the Al-Midan and Tadamon districts.
Roads to the airport were reported blocked as the Syrian army sought to surround opposition fighters in several neighborhoods. Protesters also briefly blocked a main road leading into the capital with stones and burning tires.
On the diplomatic front, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria Kofi Annan and said it was unrealistic for Russia to urge Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to resign.
Lavrov also accused Western countries of trying to "blackmail" Russia
into supporting a UN resolution to impose sanctions against Syria by threatening to discontinue the UN monitoring mission.
The UN monitoring mission's current mandate from the UN Security Council expires July 20. But the monitors already have been pulled back from many parts of the country because of fighting.
Also on the diplomatic front, Syria on July 16 declared Morocco's ambassador persona non grata in a tit-for-tat move hours after Rabat expelled Damascus's envoy. Rabat cited violence in Syria as the trigger for its decision, saying that more than 20,000 people have so far been killed.
Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP