Damascus: Syrian President Bashar Al Assad held unannounced talks with a top envoy from closest ally Iran on Tuesday as his troops engaged rebels in fierce fighting in key battleground city Aleppo.
Saeed Jalili, a top aide to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, went straight into his meeting with Al Assad on his arrival from neighbouring Lebanon, a day after Syria’s prime minister abandoned the regime.
I urge the parties to protect civilians and respect their obligations under international humanitarian law. Civilians must not be subjected to shelling and use of heavy weapons
“The Islamic Republic of Iran believes in national dialogue between all domestic groups to be the solution, and believes foreign solutions are not helpful,” Iran’s state media quoted him as saying on arrival in Damascus.
“We hope to take an effective step in regards to this new direction.”
In Beirut on Monday, Jalili had issued a veiled warning to countries backing the Syrian rebels.
“Those who believe that, by developing insecurity in the countries of the region by sending arms and exporting terrorism, they are buying security for themselves are wrong,” he told Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour, according to Iran’s official IRNA news agency.
In commercial capital Aleppo, fierce fighting between troops and rebels rocked several areas of the city centre early on Tuesday, while the army also shelled rebel-held areas in the east, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The fighting killed at least seven people, the Britain-based watchdog said.
Troops fought rebels in the Bab Antakya, Aziziyeh, Bab Janin and Sabaa Bahrat areas of central Aleppo and near the Palace of Justice in the west, it said.
Fighting also broke out for the first time in the Ashrafiyeh district in the northwest, Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP. “Clashes broke out there after rebels attacked a military post,” he said.
Aleppo has been bracing for a threatened ground offensive by the army against the rebels, who say they control around half of the city.
A senior security official said on Sunday the army had completed the build-up of some 20,000 troops in readiness for a decisive showdown in the battle under way since July 20.
The head of the UN observer mission in Syria, Lieutenant General Babacar Gaye expressed concern for civilians trapped in the city of some 2.7 million people.
Fighting in Aleppo killed 57 people on Monday alone, the majority of them civilians, the Observatory said.
“I urge the parties to protect civilians and respect their obligations under international humanitarian law,” Gaye said in a statement on Monday. “Civilians must not be subjected to shelling and use of heavy weapons.”
The UN mission pulled out its own 20-strong team from Aleppo at the weekend in the face of the worsening violence, a UN spokeswoman said.
Nationwide, violence killed at least 265 people on Monday, 182 of them civilians, making it one of the deadliest days of the uprising, the Observatory said.
Now ex-prime minister Riad Hijab was in neighbouring Jordan firming up his plans after his shock defection to the opposition, which Washington said showed Assad’s regime was crumbling.
US National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said Hijab’s defection was “just the latest indication that Assad has lost control of Syria and that the momentum is with the opposition forces and the Syrian people.”
Al Assad’s government put on a brave face. Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi said defections at whatever level would have no impact, implicitly acknowledging the premier’s flight.
“Syria is a state of institutions and the defection of individuals, whatever their rank, does not change the policy of the state,” Zohbi told the official SANA news agency.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi headed to Turkey to demand Ankara’s assistance in securing the release of the Iranian hostages amid growing concern for their fate following an unconfirmed report by a rebel group on its Facebook page that three of them had been killed in shelling by Assad’s forces on Monday.