Iran’s foreign minister has met embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and called for a solution to the ongoing civil war, as a rights group accused Damascus of waging “relentless, indiscriminate” attacks against its own people.
Speaking in Damascus on Wednesday, Ali Akbar Salehi said the solution to the 18-month conflict lies “only in Syria and within the Syrian family”.
The comments were made amid reports that two bombs had hit a Damascus suburb.
Salehi, who called this week for a simultaneous halt to the fighting by both regime and rebel forces, added that ending the conflict should be done in “partnership with international and regional organisations”.
After their meeting, Assad said the war engulfing Syria was focusing on not only, it but the “axis of resistance,” a term Syria, Iran and Lebanon’s Shia movement Hezbollah use to refer to their common opposition to Israel.
Assad also said “Syria has shown openness in dealing with all initiatives put forward to find a solution to the crisis. The key to any initiative’s success is the sincerity of the intentions behind it”.
Salehi said the country was “facing a problem, and we hope that this problem can be solved as soon as possible”.
He also said “Syria has very strong, solid ties with Iran, especially at the political level,” and that he would discuss the conflict with Syrian officials.
Salehi’s call for an end to fighting came at a meeting in Cairo on Monday of the Syria “contact group”. The group brings together Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Tehran, a staunch ally of Syria, is also proposing the four countries dispatch observers to Syria in an effort to quell the violence.
Last month, the United Nations withdrew its own observers after both sides failed to respect an April ceasefire to which they had committed themselves.
A new UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, said on a visit to Syria last week that the escalating conflict posed a global danger to the world.
Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council in Washington, told Al Jazeera that Iran would not want to see “Assad leave” but that it had “reconciled with the idea” he could be removed from power.
“They want to ensure that the next Syrian regime does not become pro-Saudi or pro-American, and that Iran does retain some level of influence,” he said.
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Salehi’s meeting with Assad came hours after Amnesty International said in a statement that the Syrian army was attacking civilians indiscriminately.
“Civilians, many of them children, are the main victims of a campaign of relentless and indiscriminate attacks by the Syrian army,” the London-based rights group said.
It said it had new evidence “of a pattern which has emerged in recent weeks in areas where government forces, pushed into retreat by opposition forces, are now indiscriminately bombing and shelling lost territory, with disastrous consequences for the civilian population”.
Donatella Rovera from the group told Al Jazeera that she witnessed “evidence of indiscriminate air bombardment and artillery strikes” in all of the 26 towns and villages she visited in northern Syria.
“The number of civilians that have been killed or injured has increased dramatically,” Rovera said.
And the former head of Syria’s chemical arsenal, Major General Adnan Sillu, was quoted by a British newspaper the Times as saying he believed the regime would eventually use those weapons against civilians.
The Times reported that Sillu, who defected from the Syrian army, had said he had been involved in “serious discussion about the use of chemical weapons, including how we would use them and in what areas”.
Sillu said he defected three months ago after being party to the top-level talks about the use of chemical weapons against both rebels and civilians, which he said he was convinced the regime would eventually do, according to the paper.
Rebels withdraw from Damascus
Meanwhile, rebels withdrew from three southern districts of Damascus as the army continued to bombard districts of the city and adjacent areas, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
It said the army later stormed one of the districts from which the rebels had withdrawn, setting fire to homes.
The bodies of 11 people were found in the Jobar district of Damascus, some of them belonging to people who had been detained by security forces, the Observatory added.
A network of activists, the Syrian Revolution General Commission (SRGC), described as “disaster areas” the Al-Hajar al-Aswad, Qadam and Assali districts, and the Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp.
“Since July 15, these neighbourhoods have suffered fierce army assaults, as well as indiscriminate shelling targeting civilian homes and shops,” it said.
The SRGC accused the regime of “carrying out a series of summary executions” in the south of the capital, adding that at least 200 people were killed in the afflicted districts since the outbreak of violence there mid-summer.
It appealed to international agencies to “help the residents of these disaster areas”.
The Observatory said dozens of people were killed or wounded in shelling in Sahl al-Ghab in the central province of Hama. It added 43 people had been killed nationwide on Wednesday, including 30 civilians, after 173 who were killed the previous day.
Border crossing seized
Meanwhile, Syrian rebels have seized control of a border crossing on the frontier with Turkey and pulled down the Syrian flag.
An Associated Press news agency reporter at the scene on Wednesday said Syrians on the Turkish side of the border were celebrating and yelling, “I am a free Syrian!”
People were moving freely across the border, crawling under barbed wire, the reporter said.
There were fierce clashes on Tuesday as rebels and regime forces fought for control of the Tal Abyad crossing.
Syria’s rebels control several other border crossings into Turkey, but it is believed to be the first time they have tried to take the border area in the northern province of Raqqa.