Syrian soldiers jump through flaming hoops as helicopters fly over capital

Tuesday, July 17, 2012 - 11:52am

Helicopters were in the skies over parts of Damascus on Tuesday, videos posted online showed, as opposition leaders said a battle for the capital lies ahead.

Helicopters could be heard firing, a reporter with Russia's state-run broadcaster RT in the Mezra neighborhood reported on Twitter.

Widespread violence in the country left 45 people dead, including 14 in Damascus and two in suburbs of the capital, according to the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague, at the border with Jordan, said his visit "brought home to me the full extent of the human tragedy unfolding in Syria."

He saw footage of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces "are shooting at civilians fleeing over the border," Hague wrote on Facebook. "I met men and women who had walked for months to escape the fighting. I spoke to women from Homs, whose houses had been destroyed, their homes looted and members of their family killed.

"It left me in no doubt that the U.N. Security Council must pass an urgent Chapter VII resolution making possible globally-enforced sanctions if President Assad does not comply with Kofi Annan's peace plan. Our diplomats in New York are working urgently on this today."

Annan is the joint envoy to Syria for the United Nations and the Arab League.

Russia and China, which have major trade deals with Syria, have previously blocked some of the toughest Security Council efforts.

Annan met Tuesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

He called it "a very good discussion" about what to do to end the violence in Syria and bring about a political transition. "Obviously, the discussions in the Security Council regarding the resolution also came up," Annan told reporters after the meeting. "And I would hope that the council will continue its discussions and hopefully find language that will pull everybody together for us to move forward on this critical issue."

Annan said he expects the council will "be sending a message out that the killing must stop and the situation on the ground is unacceptable. Hopefully, the council will come together in a united manner and press ahead in search of peace."

But even as al-Assad's regime faced growing pressure to halt the violence, state-run TV gave Syrians a very different picture.

Pro-military videos showed Syrian soldiers in a glowing light -- in a couple of cases literally.

Soldiers were shown smiling, kissing children, marching in perfect synchronicity, and carrying out numerous exercises. Some members of the military were showing using martial arts to chop flaming bricks. Others jumped through flaming hoops.

It appeared to be a ramp-up in propaganda.

On Monday, as videos from members of the opposition showed fighting in the Damascus neighborhood of Medan, state TV showed an interview with a woman driving through the city. Asked about reports that there was shelling in Medan, she responded, "No, nothing is happening, thank God." But apparent gunfire could be heard in the background as she spoke.

On Tuesday, a banner on state TV said authorities were pursuing "remnants of an armed terrorist group" on the outskirts of Medan, inflicting "big losses to that group."

State-run news agency SANA blames the daily violence on "armed terrorist groups."

One such group attacked an electricity converter station at dawn on Tuesday, "causing big financial loss and breaking down three converters," SANA reported.

Authorities clashed with "armed terrorist groups," destroying 14 vehicles and causing heavy losses, SANA said on Twitter.

The Local Coordination Committees opposition group reported deaths in Aleppo suburbs, Idlib, Homs, Deir Ezzor, Lattakia, Hama, and Swaida..

It also reported five deaths in Damascus and another one in a Damascus suburb.

Syria handed over to Iraq the bodies of 21 Iraqis who were killed in violence, police officials in Ramadi, Iraq, told CNN.

Among the 21 bodies handed over Monday night were those of two journalists working for local media, police said.

The bodies were handed over at the al-Waleed border post between Syria and Iraq, officials said.

While violence has been raging in many parts of the country, speculation is growing around when there may be a fight for the capital.

It was unclear whether helicopters in the skies over parts of Damascus on Tuesday were launching attacks.

"The battle for Damascus is coming," Abdulhameed Zakaria, a Syrian army colonel who defected and joined the rebel Free Syrian Army, told CNN on Monday from Turkey.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Sunday the conflict is essentially a civil war. The declaration officially applies the Geneva Conventions to violence throughout the country.

At least 97 people were killed Monday, the LCC said.

CNN cannot confirm details of reported violence because Syria has restricted access to the country by international journalists.

Since the crisis began in March 2011, the United Nations estimates more than 10,000 people have been killed in the violence; opposition activists say more than 15,000 have died.

-- CNN's Hamdi Alkhshali, Holly Yan, and Ivan Watson contributed to this report.

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