Syria moved armored vehicles into the capital Damascus as opposition fighters battled Syrian government forces in what residents described as the fiercest fighting yet inside the capital.
Activists said Monday the fighting had spread to several neighborhoods and in the center of the city.
The spread of fighting came as U.N. peace mediator Kofi Annan was due to fly to Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin who has resisted Western calls to increase pressure on Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday accused the West of using ‘blackmail” to pressure Moscow into backing a stronger U.N. resolution against Syria. Lavrov said that tying the threat of sanctions to a measure that would extend the U.N. observer mission in Syria is a “dangerous approach.”
He also rejected suggestions that Russia is protecting the Syrian president.
“Of course you’ve heard the mantra many times that Moscow holds the key to the Syrian solution,” Lavrov said. “When we ask them what they mean by that, they tell us, ‘you should convince Assad to resign on his own will.’ But this is unrealistic, I’ve already said that.
“It is not a question of our allegiances, sympathies or dislikes,” he said. “He will simply not go. Not because we defend him, but simply because he has a very, very substantial part of the population behind him.”
UN mulls measures
The U.N. Security Council is considering tough new sanctions on Syria, as a deadline looms for renewing its observer mission in the country. But Russia has threatened to once again veto any sanctions, saying it wants only to extend the observer mandate for three months.
The International Committee of the Red Cross says there is now a “non-international armed conflict” – or civil war – across more parts of Syria, widening its earlier designation.
The group had previously said such conflict existed between government forces and opposition groups in the flashpoint areas of Homs, Hama and Idlib. But ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan said Sunday that hostilities have spread to other parts of Syria.
Hassan told VOA last month that a civil war designation is based on the intensity of the conflict and the organization of the armed groups and that it aims to give potential victims “the best protection possible.”
He said international humanitarian law applies to any area where there is fighting between government forces and the opposition. That law spells out protections for civilians, saying they “shall not be the object of attack.” Violations could lead to war crimes prosecutions.
Assad said last month his country was in a “state of war.”
The United Nations humanitarian affairs office, meanwhile, is appealing for donors to help its mission to provide food for 850,000 people in Syria.
The agency says it has only 20 percent of the $189 million it needs and that it hopes a conference Monday in Geneva will bring more donors.