Syria crisis: Iran pledges support for 'vital partner'

Iranian security chief Saeed Jalili (L) with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (Sana news agency photo 7 Aug 2012) President Assad has not been seen on Syrian television for more than two weeks

Iran's security chief has told President Bashar al-Assad that Syria is part of a vital regional alliance that Tehran will not allow to be broken.

During talks in Damascus, Saeed Jalili said Syria was an essential part of an "axis of resistance".

The statement came a day after Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijab defected to the opposition.

Syrian TV showed President Assad greeting Mr Jalili, his first TV appearance in two weeks.

President Assad was last seen on state TV on 22 July - four days after a bomb killed four security chiefs in Damascus - leading to speculation about his health and whereabouts.

State television said Mr Assad had told Mr Jalili of "the determination of the people and government of Syria to cleanse the country from the terrorists and fight against terrorism unreservedly".

He said Syria would "continue on the path of national dialogue" and that it was "capable of thwarting the foreign conspiracies".

Mr Jalili was quoted as saying: "Iran will not allow the axis of resistance, of which it considers Syria to be an essential part, to be broken in any way."


Syria is one of Iran's most important allies - a pro-Iranian foothold in the Arab Middle East and an important conduit for contacts between Tehran and Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Reports that members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards may be active in Syria is one reason why 48 Iranians were seized by Syrian opposition fighters.

The exact status of those kidnapped remains unclear, but the fears for their safety are real enough.

But it is regional political considerations as much as their fate that is driving this burst of Iranian diplomacy.

Iran sees Turkey as a competitor for regional influence. Tehran is alarmed at renewed ties between Egypt and Saudi Arabia which constitute, at least in part, a thinly-veiled alliance of "moderate Sunni Islam" against Shia Iran.

The ultimate fall of the Assad regime could leave Iran dangerously isolated. Its diplomatic activism is an effort to underscore that whatever happens it remains an essential regional player.

Correspondents say "axis of resistance" refers to Iran, Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas in Gaza.

Iran has accused Turkey and some Gulf states of arming the Syrian rebels, in collusion with Israel and the US.

Tehran says it is planning an international meeting on Syria on Thursday.

It is also trying to secure the release of a group of Iranians abducted by rebels from a bus in Damascus on Saturday.

As well as Mr Jalili's visit to Damascus, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has been holding talks in the Turkish capital, Ankara.

In a letter made public late on Tuesday, Mr Salehi asked the UN for help in freeing the hostages.

'US held responsible'

An unconfirmed report from the rebels has suggested that three of the 48 hostages they are holding have been killed by army shelling.

Mr Jalili, who heads Iran's supreme national security council and is considered a senior aide to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told reporters that "kidnapping innocent people is not acceptable anywhere", Iran's official news agency Irna reported.

Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian has said it holds the US responsible for the hostages' safety.

He said the US was supporting "terrorist groups" and despatching weapons to Syria, and was therefore responsible for the lives of those abducted.

Rebels say the group are members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard. Tehran says they are pilgrims who had been heading for a Shia religious site.

'Business as usual'

The BBC's Jim Muir, in neighbouring Lebanon, said Syrian state media were giving the impression of it being business as usual in Damascus, despite Monday's defection.

Syria's information minister played down the significance of Mr Hijab's departure.

Syria was a state of institutions, Omran al-Zoubi said, and the flight of some of its individuals would not affect the state, however prominent they were.

But reports of defections have continued, with Turkey's foreign ministry announcing on Twitter that a general was among more than 1,300 refugees who fled across the border overnight.

The number of Syrians who have crossed into Turkey has risen to 47,500, Ankara says.

An elderly woman is moved from her home in Aleppo (7 Aug 2012) Civilians have become caught up in further clashes in the northern city of Aleppo

The UK said on Tuesday it was quadrupling its aid for refugees fleeing fighting in Syria.

Riad Hijab, appointed as prime minister less than two months ago, is the most prominent Syrian figure to defect so far.

Although his whereabouts are unclear, his spokesman appeared on al-Jazeera TV in neighbouring Jordan saying that the prime minister had fled Syria with his family and was in "a safe location".

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday that the international community had to plan for the fall of the Syrian regime.

Speaking in South Africa, she said: "The intensity of the fighting in Aleppo, the defections, really point out how imperative it is that we come together and work toward a good transition plan."

On the ground in Syria, clashes have been reported in Aleppo and the army is said to have stepped up its bombardment of the northern city.

Government forces are trying to dislodge rebel fighters who say they control up to half of Aleppo.

Opposition activists report intense attacks on rebel-held areas on the north-east and south-west sides of the city.

State media said troops had clashed with "terrorists" in several places inflicting heavy losses.

Further deaths were reported in Damascus on Tuesday. State news agency Sana said a "terrorist hideout" had been stormed by security forces.

British-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 270 people were killed across Syria on Monday. It said 61 civilians died in Aleppo province alone.

Activists estimate more than 20,000 people have died since the uprising against President Assad began in March last year.

Reports of casualties often cannot be independently verified.

Map showing camps for Syrian refugees. Total refugees: 235,368; Lebanon: 59,111; Turkey: 80,410; Jordan: 77,165; Iraq: 18,682. Source: UNHCR and Turkey, September 2012

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  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    Quite sad what is happening in Syria. Both sides screaming Allahu ak bar and killing each other: Syrians against Syrian....

    But history would not be any kind to Assad, he is the president of the country and hence should had stepped down when the support was no longer given.

    The era of ruling people by force is long gone!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    It's very easy for us all to sit here and comment on the dreadful situation in Syria.

    Does any one who isn't actually there fully understand the true extent of what's happening or who's to blame ?

    al - Assad cannot destroy his own people and get away with it, yet the rebels are murdering loyalist to Asaad, what's the difference ?

    Shouldn't we keep an open mind ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    Assad's Syria was not some kind of "secular paradise". It was a brutal security state run by one clan and their cronies. Assad's father flattened an entire town, killing 20,000 people to keep power.
    It is true that jihadists have infiltrated the rebels, but that doesn't make all of the rebels "terrorists". Those here equating the rebels to the likes of bin Laden should be ashamed of themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    Over all political and religious considerations over Syria comes Assad's fear of losing power, just ask Putin about what lengths a man will go to to stay in control. These 'dicators' are fearful,selfish men who are more than willing to bring a whole country crashing down around them just so they can stay in power. History repeats and they never learn.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    I have defected from the terrorist, murderous regime and [am] joining the holy revolution," ran Mr Hijab's statement read by his spokesman, Asaad should learn from Ben Ali of Tunisia, syrians need freedom he should step down because syria is not his family property.


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