Video footage of the meeting, broadcast on Syrian state television, gave Syrians their first glimpse of Assad in nearly three weeks — since he was shown on TV swearing in a new defense minister to replace one of four top security officials who were assassinated in a July 18 bombing.
“Iran will not allow the axis of resistance, of which it considers Syria to be an essential part, to be broken in any way,” Syrian television quoted Jalili as saying during the meeting. The Iranian, who is also his country’s lead nuclear negotiator, was referring to Iran’s alliance with Syria and the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah in confronting Israel.
In the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s commercial capital, fighting raged between government forces and rebels near the city center Tuesday, opposition groups reported. They said Assad’s forces battered neighborhoods across the city with aerial bombing, artillery shells and rockets fired from helicopters.
“I heard a huge explosion this afternoon and went to the roof to see,” said a 28-year-old Aleppo resident who asked that his name not be used for his safety. “I was told by a friend who is closer to that area that two buildings in that street were shelled and they fell down.”
The Syrian army also shelled Damascus and a number of smaller cities Tuesday. At least 140 people were killed across the country, including 31 dead in Damascus, 29 in Homs and 27 in Aleppo, according to the Local Coordination Committees, an activist network.
Rebel fighters in Aleppo said they were running low on ammunition as they sought to hold neighborhoods on the southern edge of the city, Reuters news agency reported. Assad’s forces blasted rebel positions with tanks and mortars and deployed snipers on rooftops. Meanwhile, a fighter jet carried out airstrikes on the eastern districts of Aleppo.
The assault has forced thousands of frightened refugees to flee the city for safety, news agencies reported.
In South Africa, visiting Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday that the fighting and a series of defections from Assad’s government underscore the urgency of planning for his departure.
“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,” Clinton told reporters at a news conference with South Africa’s foreign minister. She is scheduled to travel to Istanbul, Turkey, this weekend for talks with Turkish officials and Syrian opposition figures.