"It reminded me of that night when the Americans shelled Baghdad nine years ago," said the woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she feared for her safety. "I was watching it on TV, but today I'm living a very similar situation."
Even though Assad's powerful military remains mostly loyal - suggesting a total collapse may not be imminent - the rebels appeared to be making startling gains as the civil war intensified.
Besides the fighting in Damascus, about a half-dozen rebels took over a Syrian border crossing near the Iraqi town of Qaim, said Iraqi Army Brig. General Qassim al-Dulaimi. There are four major border posts with Iraq.
Rebels overtook a Syrian outpost near the Syrian-Iraq border after clashes that killed 21 Syrian soldiers, he added.
In addition, amateur video posted online showed rebels taking over the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey, where they stomped on portraits of Assad. The Associated Press could not independently verify the video because the government bars most media from working independently in the country.
A diplomatic solution to ending the bloodshed seemed even more remote after Russia and China again vetoed a Western-backed U.N. resolution aimed at pressuring Assad's government to end the escalating conflict.
Analysts said the regime was clearly shaken by the violence in the heart of its power base of Damascus, but the next step was not clear.
"We should not get carried away with speculating about the impending fall of the regime," said Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center and an analyst on regional politics. He said the regime's forces "are still showing a certain amount of cohesiveness in battle."
Citing a network of sources on the ground, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported intense clashes in a string of neighborhoods along the southern edge of Damascus, the northeastern neighborhood of Qaboun, and in number of western suburbs.
Gunfire and booms from shelling could be heard throughout the capital, and streets in the hard-hit areas were largely empty, save for government troops or rebels.
On Thursday, many Syrians said they were not waiting around to see if the violence would end any time soon. Thousands streamed across the Syrian border into Lebanon at the Masnaa crossing point - about 25 miles from Damascus.
Hundreds of private cars as well as taxis and buses ferried people across.
Even if Assad did leave power, the opposition is widely perceived to be far too disorganized to take over. There is no clear candidate to lead the country in Assad's absence, and the grim sectarian tint to much of the violence suggests any power vacuum will usher in a bloodbath.
Sunnis make up most of Syria's 22 million people, as well as the backbone of the opposition. But Assad and the ruling elite belong to the tiny Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
Assad is relying heavily on his Alawite power base to crush the uprising, prompting revenge attacks and fear among other minorities that they face retribution if the regime falls.
Another fearsome factor is the emergence of extremists among the forces looking to oust Assad. Several big suicide attacks this year suggest that al-Qaeda or other terrorist forces are joining the fight.
U.S. officials said al-Qaeda's presence has risen slightly, with one official putting the estimate at a couple hundred operatives attempting to hijack Syrian unrest. They operate under the name of the Al-Nusra Front, which has claimed responsibility for a series of bomb attacks on regime targets, including a government-run TV station in June, the officials said. But opposition forces, such as the leaders of the rebel Free Syrian Army, have made clear to U.S. officials that they reject the group's methods, because the attacks often occur in public areas where civilians have been killed and injured.