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Latest violence could signal new phase in Syria conflict

CAIRO -- With fighting now encroaching the suburbs of the Syrian capital, the conflict is entering into a new dimension for the first time in nearly 10 months.

Ayman Mohyeldin / NBC News

President Bashar Assad's regime is intensifying its violent crackdown on Syrian protesters, despite international pressure. NBC News' Ayman Mohyeldin is one of the few Western journalists to have been granted permission inside Syria in recent weeks, click to see some of his photos.

The Syrian military has regained control of the Damascus suburbs after rebel fighters over the weekend made strong advances around the capital, threatening the grip of President Bashar al Assad. The Syrian News Agency say security forces attacked "terrorist hideouts" in the Damascus countryside -- a loosely veiled acknowledgment that the fighting is now on the doorsteps of the capital.

But the attention on the capital and its outlying areas is a sign that rebel fighters who are part of the loosely knit Free Syrian Army have grown more brazen in their attacks as they go on the offensive against government troops. The fighting near the capital comes as a spike in violence has left several hundreds of people dead over the past five days. Both the government and opposition activists continue to blame each other for the violence that only seems to be escalating.


Syrian opposition fighters say the spike in violence is a sign that Assad's regime is desperate and launching whatever counter offensive it can to crush a stubborn uprising against his rule. Syrian analysts say with the international community convening at the U.N. to discuss the Syria crisis, the regime sees a window of opportunity in which it can resort to violence before pressure and possibly action is ratcheted up against Damascus rendering it impossible to continue on the same path.

An Arab League monitoring mission tasked with making sure Syria complies with an Arab peace plan to end the violence has been suspended. Syrian opposition says this has given Assad the greenlight to crack down in the blackout of media and monitors.

Read more: Gunfire 'everywhere': Street battles rage in Damascus suburbs

Some Syrians say the Free Syrian Army has grown in strength as more supporters and defectors join its ranks buoyed by its will to fight on despite being overpowered and outnumbered. As their numbers grow, the Syrian military is increasingly fatigued and weary, according to opposition members. Time is the regime's enemy, they say.

President Bashar Assad's regime has slaughtered thousands of people since March, according to the United Nations. NBC's Ayman Mohyeldin reports.

But Syria's fault lines are now spilling over into the international arena. U.N. Security Council members are convening in New York on Tuesday to discuss endorsing an Arab League plan that calls on Assad to hand over power immediately. The biggest objection so far has come from Russia which sees such attempts as interference in Syrian domestic affairs.

Russia instead has gone on its own diplomatic offensive, offering to host negotiations between the Assad government and all of the opposition forces. But a member of the Syrian opposition tells me Russia's efforts are only so that it does not appear as an obstacle to the will of the international community without offering an alternative. The Syrian opposition will not enter into any dialogue with Assad's government without preconditions. At the top of its list of demands? The President must agree to step down from power immediately.

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