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Syrian rebels fight loyalist troops in sight of presidential palace

Syrian rebels kept up pressure on President Bashar al-Assad following the assassination of three top lieutenants, fighting loyalist troops within sight of the presidential palace and near government headquarters, residents said on Thursday.

Residents said there was no let-up in the heaviest fighting — now in its fifth day — to hit the Syrian capital in a 16-month revolt against Assad, whose family has dominated the pivotal Arab country for 42 years.

Rebels can be seen unleashing a barrage of gunfire in one Damascus suburb, Zamalka, on Thursday, according to unverified video posted to a social media website.

In the video, fighters with a rocket propelled grenade launcher, machine guns and assault rifles can be seen firing from a rooftop parapet.

Off camera, a man’s voice is heard to say that the fighters were from the Saif al-Islam brigade. Reuters is unable to independently verify the contents or the date this video.

The bombing on Wednesday in Damascus, that killed President Bashar al-Assad’s brother-in-law, defence minister and a top general, triggered fierce army retaliation with artillery unleashed on rebels massed in several districts and armed mostly with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades.         

Some of the heaviest fighting has been in the Sayed Zainab neighbourhood of the Syrian capital, say opposition activists.

More than a score of bodies wrapped in burial clothes can seen lying in a mass grave in Sayed Zainab on Thursday, video uploaded to a social media website purports to show.

A voice off-camera says that others had been buried the night before. Reuters is unable to independently verify this video segment.

An official source said the president, who has made no statement or public appearance since Wednesday’s stunning bomb attack, was still commanding operations from his Damascus office.

But opposition sources and a Western diplomat said the embattled leader was now in the coastal city of Latakia.

The UN Security Council put off a scheduled vote on a Syria resolution until Thursday and U.S. President Barack Obama telephoned President Vladimir Putin of Russia, Assad’s main ally, to try to persuade Moscow to drop support for him.