* South Damascus pounded by tank, helicopter, shell fire
* Moscow believes Syria won't use chemical weapons -report
* Urban warfare continues unabated in biggest city Aleppo
* Fighting rages for control of airfield near Iraq border
* Death toll in related Lebanon fighting rises to 10
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis and Oliver Holmes
AMMAN/ALEPPO, Syria Aug 22 Syrian army shells
crashed into southern Damascus on Wednesday and helicopters
fired rockets and machineguns during an assault to shore up
President Bashar al-Assad's grip on the capital 17 months into a
popular uprising, opposition activists said.
The army has used tanks and helicopter gunships this week in
an offensive around Damascus that has coincided with the
departure of U.N. military observers after a failed mission to
stop the bloodshed and nudge Syria toward a peaceful transition.
The United Nations estimates that 18,000 people have been
killed in what has become a civil war after a violent state
response to peaceful street protests generated an armed
rebellion in the pivotal Arab country.
Anti-Assad activists said at least 47 people had been killed
in Damascus in what they called the heaviest bombardment this
month. "The whole of Damascus is shaking with the sound of
shelling," said a woman in Kfar Souseh, one of several districts
hit during the military offensive to root out rebel fighters.
At least 22 people were killed in Kfar Souseh and 25 in the
nearby district of Nahr Eisha, activists said. One of the dead
was named as Mohammad Saeed al Odeh, a journalist employed at a
state-run newspaper who was sympathetic to the anti-Assad
revolt. Activists said he had been executed in Nahr Eisha.
"There are 22 tanks in Kfar Souseh now and behind each one
there are at least 30 soldiers. They are raiding houses and
executing men," an opposition activist in Kfar Souseh, who gave
his name only as Bassam, told Reuters by Skype.
More than 250 people, including 171 civilians, were killed
across Syria on Tuesday, mostly around Damascus, Aleppo and the
southern city of Deraa, according to the Syrian Observatory for
Human Rights, a British-based opposition monitoring group.
Activists in the southwestern Damascus suburb of Mouadamiya
said Assad's forces had killed 86 people there since Monday,
half of them by execution. It was not possible to verify that
There was no immediate government account of the latest
fighting. But state television broadcast footage of weapons it
said had been seized from rebels in Mouadamiya, which was one of
the first districts to join the uprising.
The conflict, which pits a mainly Sunni Muslim opposition
against a ruling system dominated by Assad's Alawite minority,
threatens to destabilise neighbours including Lebanon, where
Sunni-Alawite violence flared for a third day.
The death toll from the fighting in the northern Lebanese
city of Tripoli rose to at least 10 with more than 100 wounded,
medical sources said, in what residents said were some of the
fiercest clashes there since Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war.
The Syria conflict has revived old tensions in Tripoli
between pro-Assad Alawites in the hilltop district of Jebel
Mohsen and their Sunni neighbours in Bab al-Tabbaneh below.
In Syria, Assad's forces have lost swathes of territory in
recent months, but have fought back hard in Damascus and in
Aleppo, the country's biggest city and commercial hub until it
became a theatre for urban warfare.
Reuters journalists in Aleppo heard gunfire and shells
exploding every minute. Rebel fighters trying to advance in Saif
al-Dawla, a front-line Aleppo district, encountered mortar and
rocket-propelled grenade barrages. At one point, their escape
route was cut off by gunfire as tank shells exploded nearby.
Much of the area was destroyed. Water poured from one
building into the street below. State television said government
forces were pursuing "the remnants of armed terrorist gangs".
Syrian government forces also fought rebels on Wednesday for
control of a military base and airfield near the eastern town of
Albu Kamal on the Iraqi border, according to a local Iraqi
official and a Syrian rebel commander.
Opposition sources said Syrian state forces had evacuated
two security installations at Albu Kamal on the Iraqi border on
Tuesday as rebels made gains after a week of heavy fighting.
They identified the installations as belonging to the
Airforce Intelligence and Political Security agencies in Albu
Kamal, 120 km (75 miles) southeast of the city of Deir al-Zor.
The rebel commander, known as Abu Khalid, said his forces
now controlled Albu Kamal, straddling a supply route from Iraq
where many Sunni tribes sympathise with their Syrian kin
fighting Assad's forces.
As Syria slips deeper into chaos, the United States and
Israel have voiced concern that Assad might lose control of his
chemical weapons arsenal or even be tempted to use it.
Russia, a Syrian ally since Soviet times, believes Syria has
no intention of using its chemical weapons and is able to
safeguard them, the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported on
Wednesday, citing an unidentified Foreign Ministry official.
A "confidential dialogue" with the Syrian government on the
security of the arsenal has convinced Russia that "the Syrian
authorities do not intend to use these weapons and are capable
of keeping them under control themselves," Kommersant reported.
U.S. President Barack Obama threatened Assad on Monday with
"enormous consequences" if he employed chemical weapons or even
if he moved them in a menacing way, drawing a warning from
Russia against any unilateral action by the West.
Russia and China have repeatedly vetoed U.N. Security
Council resolutions that Western and some Arab countries had
hoped would pile pressure on Assad to end the conflict.
Moscow accuses those nations of prolonging the war by
backing rebels, whom it often identifies as Islamist militants.