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Syria: Civil war engulfs Damascus (+video)

People fled from Syria's capital as rebels exchanged fire with President Bashar Assad's military in some of the worst fighting of the conflict. Thousands of people have lost their lives since the crisis began 16 months ago.

Amateur video from inside Syria appears to show street battles close to President Assad's doorstep.
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Syrian rebels fired grenades at tanks and troops while regime armor shelled Damascus neighborhoods on Monday, sending terrified families fleeing the most sustained and widespread fighting in the capital since the start of the uprising 16 months ago.

A ring of fierce clashes nearly encircled the heavily guarded capital as rebels seeking to overthrow President Bashar Assad pushed the civil war that has been building in Syria's impoverished provinces closer to the seat of power.

While the clashes were focused in a string of neighborhoods in the city's southwest, for many of its 4 million people the violence brought scarily close to home the strife that has deeply scarred other Syrian cities.

In high-end downtown cafes frequented by the business and government elite tightly bound to the Assad regime, customers watched as black smoke billowed on the horizon and the boom of government shells reverberated in the distance.

"Without a doubt, this is all anyone is talking about today," a Damascus activist who gave his name as Noor Bitar said via Skype. "The sounds of war are clear throughout the city. They are bouncing off the buildings."

Syria's violence has grown increasingly bloody and chaotic in recent months as the uprising has morphed from a peaceful protest movement seeking political change into an armed insurgency seeking to topple the regime by force.

Anti-regime activists say more than 17,000 people have been killed, and the government says it has lost more than 4,000 security officers. It does not provide numbers of civilian dead.

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