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News

Aleppo conflict brews as rebels hold Iranians hostage

President Bashar Assad's forces have again shelled Syria's commerical hub of Aleppo where rebels and troops have fought for a week. Iran has called for the release of 48 Iranians seized near Damascus by rebels.

Syria's military claimed on Sunday to have 20,000 troops amassed outside Aleppo. The news agency AFP also quoted an unnamed "high-level security source" as saying that "the army is ready to launch its offensive, but it is awaiting orders."

It said government fighter jets had pounded the northern Syrian city's neighborhoods of Salaheddin and Sakhur. Clashes between rebels and troops were also reported in Aleppo's neighborhoods of Hamdaniyeh, Meridyan and Ansari.

Sunday's death toll stood at at least 40 people killed nationwide, said the British-based activist group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. For Saturday, it had put total losses of civilians, rebels and soldiers at 220.

Historic sites targeted, say rebels

The opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) accused Assad's forces of targeting public buildings, some of archaeological significance. Aleppo's treasures include its 13th century citadel which has UN World Heritage status.

The SNC also accused the army of shelling Aleppo's television building, which rebels tried to storm on Saturday. The observatory said shelling drove them back.

Mystery Iranians seized near Damascus

The rebel Free Syrian Army posted an online video on Sunday purporting to show 48 Iranians captured near Damascus. The FSA said they were Revolutionary Guards who were part of a reconnaissance group sent by Iran.

A still photo from a video from al-Harabia showing a group of rebels

The rebels claimed to have captured Iranians near Damascus

Tehran, which is Assad's key regional ally, has in the past denied sending any military units to Syria. Iranian media said those shown were a bus load of Iranians abducted while on a pilgrimage to a mosque.

But a spokesman for the FSA's al-Baraa brigade, Abdel Nasser al-Shumair said the bus stopped was far from the Sayyeda Zeinab mosque and had been heading to areas where rebels and government forces were fighting.

Iran's state news agency IRNA said Tehran had send requests to help free those abducted to Turkey and Qatar, nations with close ties to the Syrian opposition.

Syria's first astronaut defects

In the wake of Friday's abortive attempt by UN General Assembly to restrain Syria's warring factions, the US State Department said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will visit Turkey next Saturday. Clinton, who's on a tour of Africa, visited Malawi on Sunday.

The Turkish news agency Anatolia reported on Sunday that a Syrian military aviator, who was a cosmonaut in 1987 during a stay on board the Soviet space station Mir, had fled to Turkey. General Muhammed Ahmed Faris had visited FSA headquarters in his home city of Aleppo before crossing into Turkey, Anatolia said.

ipj/kms (dpa, AFP, Reuters)