Clashes in Damascus and Aleppo as 48 Iranian pilgrims abducted
Clashes intensified since Friday night in Damascus and Aleppo. These two key cities were the scene of heavy fighting in what seems to be the decisive battle between insurgents and government forces.
The sounds of shelling and small arms fire were heard throughout the night in Damascus, and witnesses said that the army had launched an offensive against rebels holed up in the populated areas of Tadamun, Dummar, Dal al-Shouk, Jobar and Arbeen.
In parallel, Aleppo, Syria's second largest city, has experienced another night of tension. Rumors said that the rebels had taken the the premises of the state television and radio in this strategic city. Syrian state media have denied the report, saying the army had repelled the insurgent attack.
Quoting official sources in Aleppo, the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) said that the news broadcast by certain channels were "absolutely false". It, however, confirmed that government forces repelled "terrorist groups" that tried to enter the center, and killed or wounded many of them.
Meanwhile, 48 Iranian pilgrims were kidnapped Saturday in Damascus by "armed terrorist groups," said the Iranian consul in the Syrian capital. "Armed groups abducted 48 Iranian pilgrims on their way (by bus) to the airport," Iran's public broadcaster IRIB reported.
"There is no information on the fate of the pilgrims. Embassy and Syrian officials are trying to trace the kidnappers," the source added.
Hundreds of thousands of Iranians visit each year the tomb of Zaynab, the daughter of Imam Ali, which is located in Damascus.
Dozens of pilgrims and Iranian engineers were kidnapped in December 2011 and January 2012. The majority of them were released several months later.