BEIRUT — A large armored contingent of Syria’s elite Republican Guard stormed a western Damascus suburb near the presidential palace Friday, residents and anti-government activists said, bringing intense combat with insurgents unusually close to the doorstep of the embattled Syrian leadership.
Hundreds of residents fled the fighting, which followed days of shelling by government forces after a three-month truce collapsed in the area. Home to hundreds of Guard members and their families, the suburb extends to within a mile of the palace, the residence of President Bashar Assad, which overlooks the capital.
The government and its armed opponents blamed one another, each claiming that residents of the neighborhood, Qudsaya, had requested protection from the other side.
On the other side of the capital, in the suburb of East Ghouta, rebels celebrated their apparent downing of a helicopter, documented in dramatic videos of the craft losing its rotors, spinning to earth and exploding, and jubilant young men dragging its tail section behind a pickup truck.
The fighting around Damascus came as anti-government activists reported a renewal of fierce army shelling of Homs, the central city that has long been a trouble spot for Assad. The shelling demonstrated that the government is still struggling to control the city, which it had declared insurgent-free eight months ago.
Meanwhile, fears of regional repercussions continued to build as Turkish artillery hit Syria for a third consecutive day after a Syrian mortar killed five Turkish civilians Wednesday.