BEIRUT - Fierce gunfights between security forces and rebels broke out on Friday on the streets of the Syrian capital, Damascus, residents and activists said, an increasingly common occurrence in a city formerly considered a bastion of presidential control.

Residents of the Mezze neighborhood said they were hiding in their homes as gunfire crackled outside, and one resident said "The gunfire is so loud I think some bullets could have hit the house, I'm afraid to go outside to see what is happening."

In the early stages of the 15-month-old uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad, Damascus remained firmly under government control as Assad's forces tried to crush opposition in other parts of the country.

But in recent months shooting and bombings have erupted in several neighborhoods.

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