Fighting raged in Syria’s second city Aleppo on Thursday afternoon, a watchdog said, as regime forces shelled a village in Damascus province, killing five children.
A security source told AFP troops were preparing to launch an all-out offensive on rebel-held districts of Aleppo.
Intermittent clashes were reported in the Damascus district of al-Hajar al-Aswad, with the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights watchdog saying at least seven people were killed there on Thursday.
Regime forces pounded the southern Salaheddin and eastern Jazamati districts of Aleppo, the country's commercial hub, the Observatory said.
Across Syria, at least 114 people were killed on Thursday, including 61 civilians, 32 regime troops and 21 rebels, according to the group.
Regime forces shelled the village of Yalda, just south of the capital Damascus, killing 16 civilians, among them five children and four women, the Observatory said.
“The villagers are terrified,” the Syrian Revolution General Commission said in a statement, adding that “there are difficulties helping the wounded. Some houses collapsed with people still inside them.”
The violence came as rebels and troops prepared for a major battle in Aleppo, a security source told AFP news agency , while Syria accused Lebanon of sheltering “terrorist” groups.
“The special forces were deployed on Wednesday and Thursday on the edges of the city, and more troops have arrived to take part in a generalized counter-offensive on Friday or Saturday,” a source close to the Syrian security apparatus said.
The source said rebel fighters had brought in their own reinforcements, estimating between 1,500 and 2,000 opposition fighters had arrived from outside Syria’s largest city to reinforce some 2,000 already fighting in Aleppo.
“They are mainly present in the southern and eastern suburbs of the city, mainly Salaheddin and nearby districts,” the security source said.
The airport is currently cut off from the city, as four of the five roads leading to it are under rebel control, the source added.
Rebels also said a regime assault appeared imminent.
“The army’s reinforcements have arrived in Aleppo,” Colonel Abdel Jabbar al-Okaidi, a spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army in Aleppo, told AFP via Skype.
“We expect a major offensive at any time, specifically on areas across the southern belt, from east to west.”
Okaidi added that some 100 army tanks – as well as a large number of military vehicles – had arrived in Aleppo.
A rebel spokesman told AFP via Skype that a “large number” of troops have been moved from the northwestern province of Idlib to Aleppo.
A Syrian newspaper journalist confirmed that the rebels were also reinforcing.
Heavy clashes have taken place in the ancient neighborhoods of Aleppo, Free Syrian army military chief Colonel Abdul Jabbar al-Kaedi told Al Arabiya. “The Free Syrian Army is advancing and becomes more in control of more neighborhoods in Aleppo,” he said.
Meanwhile, Syria on Wednesday accused Lebanon of sheltering “terrorist” groups and pushing them to Syria to shed the blood of the Syrians.
The accusation by the Syrian envoy comes few days after France warned that Damascus was trying to involve Beirut in the ongoing conflict.
“Some political parties in Lebanon are arming and sheltering terrorist groups and then directing them to shed the blood of civilians and military personnel in Syria,” the Syrian envoy to the United Nations Bashar al-Jaafari said late Wednesday.
Residents in southern Damascus reported a shell landing in southern areas of the capital every minute, Reuters reported.
U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said he had told Syrian officials that without a significant reduction in violence, the remaining 150 U.N. observers would leave on the expiry of the “final” 30-day extension of the mission's mandate, agreed by the Security Council on July 20.
The Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday that Russia is prepared to send observers into Syria.
As the violence increases, high-level defections from Assad’s regime are growing.
The United States on Wednesday confirmed the defections of two more senior Syrian diplomats, the ambassadors to the UAE and Cyprus.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One that the moves showed that “senior officials around the Assad inner circle are fleeing the government because of the heinous actions taken by Assad against his own people, and the recognition that Assad's days are numbered.”
Earlier a senior State Department official said: “these defections serve as a reminder that the bottom is starting to fall out of the regime. It is crumbling and losing its grip on power.”
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, in Bosnia to visit the site of the Srebrenica genocide in 1995, told the parliament there that “the international community is being tested in Syria.”
The juxtaposition of the massacre and what is happening in Syria was clear.
“I make a plea to the world: Do not delay... Act now to stop the slaughter in Syria,” Ban said. “The echoes are deafening: An accelerated slide to civil war. Growing sectarian strife. Villages and children butchered.”
White House spokesman Carney condemned the use of attack helicopters as “another indication of the depth of depravity” of Assad's regime.
Meanwhile, aiming to regain the diplomatic initiative, Russia’s U.N. ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Moscow was ready to host talks between the two sides.
“We are ready to give the opposition and the government a platform in Moscow to forge contacts to unify the opposition and for negotiations with the government,” he said.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov lashed out at the United States for backing the armed opposition, saying a U.S. failure to condemn the July 18 bombing that killed four top Syrian security officials meant it was justifying terror.
And a Russian foreign ministry statement said a new round of EU sanctions agreed this week, which allows for the inspection of vessels and planes suspected of carrying arms to Syria, amounted to an air and sea “blockade.”
It said experts needed to look into the EU legislation to see whether it was in line with international law.
Russia has protected its Soviet-era ally and last week, with China, vetoed a Council resolution on Syria for the third time to the outrage of western nations.
The United States, Britain, France and Germany have said they will seek action against the Syrian government outside the council. All have rejected providing military aid to the opposition, however.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory also reported clashes in the al-Hajar al-Aswad district of Damascus, one of the last remaining rebel bastions after 10 days of fighting in the capital.
In Hama province in central Syria, a couple and their two children were killed as they tried to flee shelling. A video distributed by the Observatory showed grisly footage of the bodies.
Nationwide, the monitoring group put the death toll at 108 by Wednesday evening -- 57 civilians, 36 soldiers and 15 rebels, while it said 158 people were killed across Syria on Tuesday.
Rights group Amnesty International warned about disturbing reports of “summary executions” by both Syrian troops and rebels, calling them “serious violations of international law.”
Turkey indefinitely closed three border crossings to Turkish nationals trying to get into Syria, citing security concerns.
The U.N. refugee agency in Geneva said about 300 people fled from Syria into Turkey on Tuesday night.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is proposing a U.N. General Assembly resolution which will highlight a Syrian government threat to use chemical weapons, its U.N. envoy said.
Ambassador Abdallah al-Mouallimi told reporters the resolution would be submitted in coming days and he hoped for a vote “probably early next week.”