ALEPPO (AFP/Reuters) - Syrian forces shelled rebels in the battle-scarred Aleppo and blasts rocked Damascus on Saturday, as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for the regime’s downfall to be speeded up.
State television said two bombs exploded in the heart of the capital, without reporting casualties.
“The explosion was huge. There has been fighting for the past half-hour along Pakistan Street. I am very close. Can you hear that?” a resident told Reuters, a bang audible over the telephone.
But across the country the renewed violence has killed at least 50 people - 27 civilians, nine soldiers and 11 rebels, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. In the latest battles, tanks and troops pummeled rebels near the shattered district of Salaheddine, a former opposition stronghold that commands the main southern approach to Aleppo.
Tank fire crashed into the adjacent Saif al-Dawla neighborhood as military jets circled over an abandoned police station held by rebels, firing missiles every few minutes. Insurgents said they had been forced to retreat in the latest twist in relentless, see-saw battles for Salaheddine, part of a swathe of Aleppo seized by rebels last month.
Fighting was also reported elsewhere in Damascus, including Tadamun, where there were “fierce clashes between the Free Syrian Army and the regime forces,” said the Local Coordination Committees, which has activists on the ground.
In the face of the escalating violence, the US and Turkey indicated they were studying a range of measures, including a no-fly zone, as battles between Syrian rebels and President Bashar al-Assad’s forces shook Aleppo and the heart of Damascus.
The US top diplomat on a visit to Turkey said that Washington and Ankara should develop detailed operational planning on ways to assist the rebels fighting to topple Assad.
Hillary Clinton told a joint press conference in Istanbul after meeting Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Syrian opposition activists that the “number one goal” of Washington and Ankara was to hasten the end of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and stop the bloodshed.
Asked about options such as imposing a no-fly zone over rebel-held territory, Clinton said these were possibilities she and Davutoglu had agreed “need greater in-depth analysis”, while indicating that no decisions were necessarily imminent.
 “It is one thing to talk about all kinds of potential actions, but you cannot make reasoned decisions without doing intense analysis and operational planning,” she said. “We are continuing to increase pressure from outside,” she said, adding “Yesterday in Washington we announced sanctions designed to expose and disrupt the links between Iran, Hezbollah and Syria that prolong the life of the Assad regime.”
Clinton also met Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul to discuss ways to effectively enforce sanctions against Syria and accelerate efforts for the fall of the Assad regime.
Though possible intervention appears to be a distant prospect, her remarks were nevertheless the closest Washington has come to suggesting direct military action in Syria.
No-fly zones imposed by Nato and Arab allies helped Libyan rebels overthrow Muammar Gaddafi last year. Until recently, the West had shunned the idea of repeating any Libya-style action. Davutoglu said it was time outside powers took decisive steps to resolve the humanitarian crisis in cities such as Aleppo, where Assad’s forces have fought rebels for three weeks.
With the unrelenting violence, Arab foreign ministers will hold emergency talks in Saudi Arabia on Sunday to discuss the conflict and a replacement for international mediator Kofi Annan, who resigned in frustration over a failed peace deal.
World powers are expected to name veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi as the new UN-Arab League envoy for Syria early next week. French President Francois Hollande also Saturday backed “support for the Syrian opposition and the determined search for a political transition in Syria,” as well as humanitarian aid.
He noted that France had deployed a field hospital in Jordan “as close as possible to the border with Syria to help not only refugees but also combatants fighting the repression of a regime which is no longer motivated by anything but the fear of its own demise.” This “humanitarian duty” was in addition to France’s “support for the Syrian opposition and the determined search for a political transition in Syria,” he said in Varces, southeastern France. Clinton also announced an additional $5.5 million in aid for those fleeing fighting in Syria that monitoring groups say has now claimed over 21,000 lives.
Turkey is currently home to some 55,000 refugees living in camps along the Syrian border, with close to 10,000 seeking safety this week alone.
A French cargo plane carrying tonnes of aid supplies and medical equipment landed on Saturday in Jordan for tens of thousands of Syrian refugees from across the border.
In Lebanon, another neighbour where tensions have spilled over, the military prosecutor general accused Syrian security chief General Ali Mamluk and former Lebanese minister Michel Samaha of planning attacks.
A judicial source said they were “suspected of forming a group to provoke sectarian killings and terrorist acts using explosives, which were transported and stored by Michel Samaha.”
Their targets, mostly in northern Lebanon near the border, would have been religious and political figures, and the men are accused of attempting to stir sectarian strife and undermine the Lebanese state, the source said.