Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad being transported in a military vehicle in central Damascus on July 16. — Photo AFP

DAMASCUS: More than 60 soldiers were Wednesday reported killed as rebels pressed their offensive to capture Damascus, upping the stakes ahead of a Security Council vote on a resolution threatening sanctions on Syria.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights watchdog said at least 20 government soldiers died on Tuesday in Damascus clashes with the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) and that between 40 and 50 were killed the previous day.

Columns of black smoke rose over the capital on Wednesday as the Local Coordination Committees, which organises anti-regime protests on the ground, reporting fighting in several districts.

The Qaboon neighbourhood was bombarded during the night and pounded again on Wednesday morning, the LCC said, as was Barzeh neighbourhood, and sustained gunfire was heard.

It also said there was less traffic than normal in the city where fighting has raged since Sunday, with the rebels announcing a full-scale offensive dubbed “the Damascus volcano and earthquakes of Syria.” Regime forces and the FSA — defected soldiers and civilians who have taken up arms — clashed at dawn in the Al-Midan and Zahira districts of Damascus as well as at Assali south of the city, the LCC said.

Rebel forces on Tuesday said the battle to “liberate” Damascus had begun, as heavy fighting raged across the city with the regime using helicopter gunships in the capital for the first time.

As the fighting inched closer to the regime's nerve centre, FSA spokesman Colonel Kassem Saadeddine said “victory is nigh” and the struggle would go on until the city was conquered.

“We have transferred the battle from Damascus province to the capital. We have a clear plan to control the whole of Damascus. We only have light weapons, but it's enough. Expect surprises,” Saadeddine added.

An army officer in Damascus, however, told AFP that troops have “the situation under control” and were “chasing the terrorists seeking refuge in apartments and mosques.”The source said “battles raged” in Qaboon, “where the majority of rebels were,” adding that “33 terrorists were killed, 15 were wounded and 145 were arrested,” referring to rebels.

Syria's opposition, meanwhile, vowed to seek new ways to confront Assad if the UN Security Council fails in a vote expected later Wednesday to pass a resolution threatening sanctions.

Syria's main ally Russia — which has vowed to veto a Western-backed proposal calling for sanctions — saw its own proposal rejected on Tuesday by Britain, France, the United States, Germany and Portugal, diplomats said.

Updated Jul 18, 2012 08:55am

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