Rebels set their sights on Syria's capital as fighting spills into Jordan

Moscow's influence over Syrian regime fades

 

Emboldened rebels fighting to hasten the fall of Syria's regime set their sights on the capital, Damascus, as diplomats went into high gear amid concerns over chemical weapons.

"Our country will be free, we have no one but God," protesters rallying against President Bashar al-Assad chanted on Friday outside the capital in Douma. "The glad tidings are coming."

The war for control of Damascus is being waged in its suburbs, where rebel forces say the casualty count has increased in recent days. And so has talk of a turning point in Syria's 21-month civil war.

Friday's fighting left 35 dead in Damascus, including one child who was killed by a mortar and another by a sniper.

The Syrian government still maintains control of Damascus, while the rebels have taken large parts of northern Syria, including parts of the most populous city, Aleppo.

But the rebel forces have been empowered as their ranks grow daily from military defectors. And their arsenal is more powerful with weapons purchased or captured from the army or reconstructed in makeshift workshops.

There are concerns that the regime's desperation could result in a chemical weapons attack. U.S. intelligence showed that the regime is filling aerial bombs with sarin gas at two locations near military airfields.

Syria has said it wouldn't use chemical weapons, "even if it had them, against its own people."

Normal life, snipers in Aleppo

The trappings of normal life contrast against the realities of war in Aleppo.

In one corner of the city, a man sits in a barber chair for a shave. Across the street, people beg for bread. Nearby, carpets strung out on a clothesline hide the guns of government snipers.

And inside the bombed out remains of buildings, rebels hack away with sledgehammers to tunnel through walls -- all to avoid a sniper's bullet.

It was house-by-house, street-by-street urban warfare with rebels dodging snipers and climbing and crawling through holes in destroyed structures for safety. They resembled an "urban version of First World War trenches," according to CNN's Arwa Damon.

Rebels use everything from rockets to slingshots. The soundtrack: Bullets cracking and the muezzin's call to prayer

"It's hard to fully absorb the scale of the devastation here," Damon reported from Aleppo's Amiriyeh neighborhood. "How entire buildings seem to have folded down upon themselves."

At an Aleppo demonstration, one of the weekly Friday protests held against the government every week since the conflict started, the people stood against the government.

"We will never kneel down, never again, to anyone but God," the protesters chanted.

The world weighs diplomacy, military options

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the U.N.-Arab League point man on Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dealt with the issue on Thursday at an international security conference in Dublin.

There wasn't a "breakthrough," Clinton said, but it was a start and that U.S. and Russian officials will meet soon to talk about how to go forward. Russia said the countries should brainstorm with Brahimi on a peaceful transition and a political settlement.

The road map would be an outline for transition at an international meeting on Syria in Geneva.

Clinton said all citizens in the ethnically and religiously diverse country should be part of the transition process. The exception? Al-Assad must not be included in any resolution.

Discussions between Russia and the United States are key because Moscow has been a friend of the Syrian regime. It has blocked tough measures against al-Assad in the U.N. Security Council. The two powers have disagreed on how to resolve the conflict.

As diplomats continue to seek a more peaceful resolution, international powers are also weighing their military options.

The U.S. military continues to revise its plans for a potential strike against Syria over chemical weapons. And NATO has approved Patriot missiles for Turkey, which wants to defend itself from any attacks along its border.

Fighting flared across Syria and into Jordan

The fighting spilled into Jordan on Friday, the Jordanian armed forces said.

Shells and bullets landed on Jordanian territory because of heavy fighting between government forces and the rebels on the Syrian side of the border.

One soldier was wounded and is in good condition at a hospital.

An armed forces source quoted by state-run Petra news agency said Jordanian armed forces made "an appropriate response" to the sources of the shelling but didn't describe the action.

"We will not hesitate in the future to take all suitable measures to defend our border and property," the source said.

Outside of Damascus, at least 21 others were killed across Syria on Friday, according to the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria.

Activists also found a mass grave in Deir Ezzor, in the country's East, that included the bodies of 50 people kidnapped two months ago, the group said.