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Mr. Ban was to hold talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao on Wednesday, with Syria expected to top the agenda.

Meanwhile, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the U.N.-Arab League special envoy for Syria, was meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow to discuss the conflict. Mr. Annan is seeking support for his faltering peace plan, which put some 300 U.N. observers in Syria to monitor the implementation of a cease-fire.

That truce never took hold, however, and the monitors have been largely confined to their hotel for weeks because of the escalating bloodshed. The mission expires on Friday.

The leader of Syria‘s outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamad Riyad Shukfa, criticized Mr. Annan’s six-point plan and the observer mission, saying that “the Syrian people have no faith in it.”

“We would like this mission to leave Syria soon because it gives more chances to Assad to kill,” Mr. Shukfa said from Turkey, where the Brotherhood, which was crushed in 1982 by Mr. Assad’s late father and predecessor, Hafez Assad, is holding a meeting.

In Tehran, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast warned against foreign intervention in Syria. Iran, one of Syria‘s strongest allies, offered to mediate and host a meeting between Syrian government and rebels to help resolve the conflict.

Iran is prepared to use all its capacities to resolve the crisis in Syria,” Mr. Mehmanparast told reporters Tuesday.

The Syrian opposition is unlikely to accept Iran, which has provided Mr. Assad with military and political backing for years, as a mediator.

The Observatory and Mr. al-Shami said helicopters fired heavy machine guns during overnight clashes in the neighborhoods of Qadam and Hajar al-Aswad.

An amateur video showed a military helicopter flying over the Damascus neighborhood of Qaboun. The narrator could be heard saying “aerial bombardment” of Qaboun, although the helicopter was not seen firing in the 30-second video. The authenticity of the video could not be independently verified.

Another activist in the capital, who asked to be identified only as Bayan because of fear for her safety, said troops fired mortar rounds at the neighborhoods of Qaboun and Jobar, causing a major fire near Jobar’s Grand Mosque.

“People are trying to extinguish the fire with water hoses or buckets filled with water,” Bayan said via Skype. She added that government troops had set up checkpoints around Damascus and were searching cars and demanding passengers’ identity cards.

Mr. al-Shami said residents of hard-hit areas were fleeing to safer neighborhoods, where they were staying at schools and mosques. He added that many of the wounded were being treated at secret hospitals for fear they might be detained if taken to official ones.

The Local Coordination Committees activist group reported heavy shelling of rebel-held areas in the central province of Homs, where they said there were casualties.

As the violence has escalated, the number of Syrians fleeing the bloodshed has swelled to some 112,000, according to United Nations. The U.N. refugee agency said women and children make up three-quarters of those whom it has assisted or registered in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

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