ALEPPO, Syria - Syrian rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad's forces in the northern city of Aleppo have abandoned at least one position in a battered district where fighting has raged for days.
“We have retreated, get out of here,” a lone rebel fighter
yelled at Reuters journalists as they arrived on Wednesday in
the Salaheddine district. Nearby checkpoints that had been
manned by rebel fighters for the last week had disappeared.
A Syrian government security source told Lebanon’s Al-Manar
television that its forces were now in control of the district,
but an opposition watchdog, the Syrian Observatory for Human
Rights, said clashes were still occurring there.
Abu Firas, a member of the rebel Free Syrian Army, said the
insurgents had left only one building in Salaheddine.
“We did not withdraw, our guys are still there and the
situation is in our favour. We just left a building that we had
in one of the streets, but it’s not like we are retreating”.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted by
Iranian media on Wednesday as saying some of the 48 Iranians
kidnapped by Syrian rebels on August 4 are retired soldier or
members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
“Some of these beloved ones were on IRGC and military
pensions … and others were from other different departments,”
Salehi said, according to the student news agency ISNA.
He denied they now had any military connection and said they
were in Damascus for a religious pilgrimage to a Shi’ite shrine.
Iran has remained a staunch ally of Assad throughout the
17-month-old uprising against the Syrian leader’s rule.
A Syrian rebel spokesman said on Monday that three of the
kidnapped Iranians had been killed in a government air strike
and the rest would be executed if the attacks did not stop.
Damascus and Tehran have accused Sunni Muslim Gulf Arab
states and Turkey, all allies of Western powers, of stoking
violence in Syria by supporting the overwhelmingly Sunni rebels.
A Syrian rebel group said on Wednesday it had killed a
Russian general working as an adviser to Syria’s ministry of
defence in an attack in the western Ghouta region on the
outskirts of the capital Damascus.
The video, sent to Reuters, showed what the rebels said was
a copy of Vladimir Petrovich Kochyev’s identity card issued by
the Syrian military. There was no immediate comment from Russia.
Moscow has given Assad firm diplomatic support. Along with
China, it has vetoed three Western-backed U.N. Security Council
resolutions aimed at intensifying pressure on the Syrian leader
to step down, rather than trying to crush opposition by force.
For now the Syrian army and armed rebels remain locked in a
confrontation that neither seems able to win decisively.
Rebels in Aleppo have been running low on ammunition as
Assad’s forces encircled Salaheddine, their stronghold in the
south of Syria’s biggest city this week.
Assad has reinforced his troops in preparation for an
assault to recapture rebel-held districts of Aleppo after
repelling fighters from most of Damascus.
Tanks have entered parts of Salaheddine and army snipers,
under cover of heavy bombardment, have deployed on rooftops,
hindering rebel movements.
As Assad’s forces battle for Aleppo, there has been no
let-up in fighting elsewhere in Syria. More than 240 people were
killed across the country on Tuesday, 40 of them in the central
city of Homs, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Assad has suffered several setbacks in recent weeks, the
latest being the defection on Monday of Prime Minister Riyad
Hijab. Footage uploaded on the Internet showed Hijab and his
relatives in what the activists said was a safe house on his way