While government forces claimed to have quelled attacks in the capital, Damascus, fierce street battles erupted in the Saladin district of Aleppo, a city of three million people that serves as Syria’s main northern commercial hub.
“The sound of bombardment has been non-stop since last night. For the first time we feel Aleppo has turned into a battle zone,” a housewife told the Reuters news agency by phone from Aleppo.
Syrian forces despatched both troops and armoured vehicles into Saladin district, which is understood to have been under rebel control for the past two days.
The fighting in Aleppo was a sign that the country’s rebel factions are determined to continue pressing home their military initiative after Thursday’s bombing in Damascus, which killed four senior figures in President Assad’s security apparatus.
An alliance between the Alawite Assad family and the predominantly Sunni merchant class of Aleppo is understood to have fractured over recent months. Support for the president has also weakened among powerful local tribal chiefs, whose followers often have access to weapons.
Speaking during a visit to Afghanistan, Mr Cameron said: “I have a very clear message for president Assad. It is time for him to go.
“It is time for transition in the regime. If there isn’t transition it’s quite clear there’s going to be civil war.”
Syria’s opposition proclaimed “the beginning of the end” for Bashar al-Assad’s regime on Wednesday night after a bomb attack in the heart of Damascus killed three of the president’s closest lieutenants, including his powerful brother-in-law.
Striking the very core of Mr Assad’s defence apparatus, the bomb exploded inside the headquarters of Syria’s national security council as officials convened a meeting of the ‘crisis cell’ set up to crush the 16-month uprising against the president’s rule.
For weeks, Mr Assad’s power had been visibly crumbling, weakened by a series of high-profile defections. But yesterday’s attack amounted to an evisceration of his inner sanctum, a solitary strike more devastating than any other rebel act during the past 16 months of blood-letting.
“Mortar shelling resumed in the early morning,” said the Local Coordination Committees, a grassroots network of activists.
The LCC added that regime troops and rebel fighters of the Free Syrian Army also clashed in the Damascus district of Kfar Sousa.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported “dawn battles on the road south of Kfar Sousa, between rebel fighters and soldiers who were in a convoy passing through the area.”
“I did not sleep all night,” a resident of nearby Jaramana told AFP. “It was a real war zone.”
Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said he heard “rockets and shooting until the early hours of the morning,” and that he saw four armoured vehicles heading towards the embattled areas.
Nawaf Fares, a former regime hardliner and security chief who was Syria’s ambassador to Iraq, spoke out in an exclusive interview with The Sunday Telegraph yesterday – his first since announcing his dramatic decision to quit last week. As the first senior diplomat to abandon the government, it is thought his departure may pave the way for others to follow, leaving President Assad’s regime even more exposed.
Yesterday, in a wide-ranging interview conducted by telephone from Qatar, where he has now sought refuge, Mr Fares made a series of devastating claims against the Assad regime, which he said was determined to be “victorious” whatever the cost.
* Jihadi units that Mr Fares himself had helped Damascus send to fight US troops in neighbouring Iraq were involved in the string of deadly suicide bomb attacks in Syria
* The attacks were carried on the direct orders of the Assad regime, in the hope that it could blame them on the rebel movement
“It began at 4.30am when first shells landed. I was sleeping and I woke up the sounds of explosions,” said Abu Fares, a resident.
Power to the village had been cut the day before; all lights were out, mobile telephone batteries had drained and landline telecommunications were cut. There was no calling for help. Terrified, Abu Fares and the other residents stayed inside, crouching behind the most solid walls of their homes and praying they would not be hit.
“The shelling was too strong to go outside, we did not know what was happening there,” he said. “After some hours everything fell silent. I went outside of my house. There was destruction everywhere and bodies under the rubble. Most of the houses were damaged or destroyed.”
One of the video clips that emerged of Thursday morning’s terrible events showed a young man wailing over the body of an elderly grey-haired man wrapped in a blanket and lying in the street.
“Come on, Dad. For the sake of God, get up,” the man sobs. A boom is heard in the background. There was no way for the Daily Telegraph to verify the provenance of the video.
He said the UN Mission in Syria must be able to access the village “quickly and without hindrance” in order to “carry out an independent investigation into what has happened and who is responsible”.
British diplomats in New York will continue negotiations with the Security Council on a resolution later on Friday.
“We will redouble our efforts to agree a Chapter VII Resolution of the United Nations Security Council. This would compel the Syrian regime to fulfil the commitments it has made under the Annan Plan, to withdraw its military from residential areas, and establish a transitional government as called for by Kofi Annan and endorsed by the P5 and Arab League,” said Mr Hague in a statement.
“It should be a legally binding Security Council Resolution with teeth, that creates a trigger for sanctions if the Assad regime does not comply.
“Our thoughts are with the Syrian people, and all those who have suffered as a result of this latest atrocity. More than 17,000 people have died already. The time has come for decisive diplomatic action to bring about a peaceful end to the violence. All members of the Security Council must shoulder their responsibility to bring this about.”
The resolution was sent to the council’s other 14 members ahead of a briefing on Wednesday by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan on efforts to revive his peace plan, Russia’s deputy UN envoy Igor Pankin told reporters.
Russia’s move is the opening round in a potentially tense diplomatic battle at the Security Council that must decide the future of the UN observer mission in Syria by July 20.
Russia is the main ally of President Bashar al-Assad and has fiercely resisted international action against the Damascus government. The United States and European powers want sanctions against Assad over the conflict, in which activists say more than 17,000 people have died.
Pankin said the Russian resolution “is aimed at providing further support to the efforts of Kofi Annan and the implementation of his plan.”
The draft, obtained by AFP, proposes extending the UN Supervision Mission in Syria for another three months. The UNSMIS mandate ends on July 20.