(DAMASCUS, Syria) -- Syrian government forces have undertaken a systematic assault to drive rebel forces from the capital of Damascus while fighting raged Sunday in the country's other largest city of Aleppo.
Opponents of President Bashar al-Assad's regime made their biggest impact of the 17-month-long conflict last week when they seized areas of Damascus, took over border crossings that abut Iraq and Turkey, and planted a bomb that killed four top government officials, including Syria defense chief and al-Assad's brother-in-law.
With the international community still unable to arrive at a consensus on how to deal with the expanding civil war, al-Assad is using all of Syria's military might to try and regain the momentum.
He ordered the army's elite fourth division to launch a full-out assault on rebels in Damascus' northeastern suburb of Barzeh and western suburb of Mezzeh backed by helicopters.
Clashes between the Free Syrian Army and government forces have also stepped up in the city of Aleppo, which is considered a bedrock of support for al-Assad.
While death toll figures since March 2011 vary depending on who is offering them, the England-based Observatory for Human Rights claims that over 19,100 have died in the fighting, most of them civilians and rebel forces.
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