DAMASCUS, Jan. 19 (Xinhua) -- The Syrian army backed by air forces pounded Saturday several rebel strongholds in the outskirts of the capital Damascus while clashes elsewhere intensified in the war-engulfed country.
Artillery and airstrikes were reported to have hit the southwestern suburbs of Daraya and Muadamieh, according to activists, who added that many people were killed in the raid.
Daraya and the adjacent Muadamieh have emerged as two strongholds of armed rebels and the clashes there have been raging on for nearly two months. The Syrian army is reported to be poised to launch a wide-scale operation to wrest back control over those areas.
Clashes, meanwhile, raged on in the Yarmouk camp for Palestinian refugees in Damascus between local committees and the rebels, activists and local media said.
Managing to stay away during most of Syria's 22-month-old crisis, the Palestinian refugees in Damascus recently found themselves drawn into the whirlpool of violence in Syria.
A senior Palestinian official has recently stated that more than 780 Palestinians have been killed in Syria since the eruption of the crisis in March, 2011.
Meanwhile, four bomb shells slammed central Damascus on Saturday, causing material losses with no reports of casualties. The shells mainly struck the Rukin Addien sprawling area and the nearby Mazraa district, local media and activists said.
It was not immediately clear who fired those shells.
Separately, the pro-government Sham FM quoted what it called as "official sources" as denying media reports circulated by the Saudi-funded al-Arabiya TV that a Syrian pilot defected with his war jet and struck army posts in Muadamieh.
In the north, clashes continued for a third straight day in the Kurdish-dominated Ras al-Ein border town between pro-government Kurdish fighters and armed rebels streaming in from neighboring Turkey, pro-government al-Khabar TV said.
Meanwhile, the opposition network Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said violent clashes took place between government and rebel forces near Khan Sheikhoun town in the northwestern province of Idlib.
It said the rebels clashed with the government forces to prevent military reinforcements to the Wadi al-Deif and al-Hamdiya encampments, adding that a military tank was destroyed and the fighting caused casualties form both sides.
The opposition account couldn't be independently verified.
According to the UN estimates, more than 60,000 people have been killed in Syria since the unrest erupted in 2011. Also, the World Food Program (WFP) said that around 2.5 million people in Syria are in need of food relief but only 1.5 million can receive supplies from the agency.
The country is in a dire situation due to a political crisis that has spilled over into its neighbors including Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq with refugees streaming in these countries.
On Friday, a Turkish official said a total of 157,490 Syrian refugees are currently taking shelter in Turkey, adding that 223, 986 Syrians had fled to Turkey and 66, 496 of them had returned to Syria.
Sources told Xinhua on Saturday that a UN team is visiting several areas in Syria to assess the humanitarian needs in hotspots and will hold official meeting on Sunday amid Syrian government's guarantee that some 40 humanitarian NGOs are permitted to work in the battered country.