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31 Jan, 2012 07:34

As death toll mounts, time running out for war-torn Syria

Violence in Syria is inching closer to Damascus, with tension rising as army defectors close in on the capital. In the past two weeks, defectors from Syria’s army have become more visible, seizing several suburbs on the eastern edge of Damascus.

Syria's troops crushed pockets of resistance on the outskirts of the capital on Tuesday. They have advanced into suburbs briefly held by rebel forces, just hours before key UN talks over a draft resolution demanding President Bashar Assad step aside.\Earlier on Monday, government forces regained control of most of the capital's eastern suburbs after dissident soldiers captured the territory last week. “Intense shooting was heard in Zamalka and Arbeen as the tanks advanced," the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, citing its network of sources on the ground.The bloodshed has escalated in recent days as Western and Arab countries stepped up pressure Russia to overcome its opposition to a draft UN resolution. However, Bashar al-Assad has blamed "terrorists" for driving the country's uprising.  He says the unrest is driven by armed insurgents and not by protesters seeking democratic change.The state-run SANA information agency reported on Monday that a large number of terrorists have been detained over the past three days in Douma, Harasta, Saqba, Hammourieh and Kfar Batna, in the Damascus countryside. Syria’s Interior Ministry reports armed terrorist groups in the area, equipped with US and Israeli-made weapons. The terrorists are committed to the killing and kidnappings of civilians, as well as vandalizing private and public property, reports SANA.Both the West and Russia have been vocal in calling for a Syrian solution to a Syrian problem – but have repeatedly failed to communicate. Now opportunities for dialogue are running out fast.The United Nations estimated several weeks ago that more than 5,400 people had been killed in Syria's crackdown since the uprising against Assad's rule began in March. Bloodshed has continued unabated, with more than 190 killed in the past five days alone.  And the UN says its estimated death toll has now been drastically superseded.RT's Sara Firth is one of the few international reporters who has been allowed into the country.  However in the last few days the situation has become so unstable that finding people willing to talk has proved difficult. Nevertheless, she managed to interview several local residents who voiced their concerns over the rapidly deteriorating situation in their hometown as the conflict moves into Damascus itself.