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News

Assad filmed greeting Iran for talks

A top Iranian representative is in Syria for talks with President Assad. Iran and Turkey, two countries with opposite views on the conflict in Syria, are also sitting down together for talks on the country today.

Syrian state television on Tuesday aired footage of President Bashar Assad meeting with Saeed Jalili, a top aide to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the first video of the isolated leader since July 22.

"Assad and Jalali discussed bilateral relations between Syria and the Islamic Republic of Iran as well as the situation in the region," reported state television. The news agency did not give details of where the meeting was taking place.

Assad has not been seen on film since last month, after he appointed a new head for the country’s armed forces, General Ali Ayyub. Four of his top security chiefs were killed in a bombing by Syrian rebels, prompting a cabinet reshuffle.

There is little sign of pressure on Assad letting up: Prime Minister Riad Hijab announced his defection from the regime after arriving in Jordan on Monday. It is one of the most high-profile defections from the Syrian government to date.

Iran also talks to Turkey

The meeting between Iran and Syria is coinciding with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi's visit to Turkey on Tuesday to discuss Syria and the plight of a group of Iranian pilgrims who were abducted in Damascus last week, an Iranian diplomat in Ankara said.

Salehi will engage in talks with Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Ankara. The talks constitute a meeting between two sides with very different views of the Syria situation. Iran is one of the Syrian regime's staunchest allies and stands by President Bashar Assad, despite international pressure on him to step down. In contrast, Turkey is one of Assad's strongest critics and has demanded his departure.

Iran grapples with hostage situation

Iran has asked Turkey and Qatar for assistance in securing the release of 48 Iranians who were abducted from a bus by Syrian rebels on Saturday. Although Iran insists the group were pilgrims, the rebels claim that they may have been military personnel. The latter attested in a video broadcast on Sunday that the Iranians were on a “reconnaissance mission.”

A Syrian rebel spokesman said on Monday three of the hostages had been killed during a government air strike on Damascus. He said the others would be killed if the Syrian government attacks did not cease. There has been no word of the captives' fate since that time.

Defections and more fighting

Riad Hijab and Bashar Assad

The defection of Riad Hijab: a sign of a 'crumbling' regime?

More fighting was also reported in Syria on Tuesday in Aleppo. Clashes took place near Bab Jnein, an historic city center, and in Sabee Bahrat district, according to activists. Violent bombardments in the town of Tal Rafaat forced scores of people to flee to Turkey for safety.

sej/jlw (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)