The Syrian army continued attacking rebel positions Sunday in the northern city of Aleppo with heavy shelling and helicopter gunships.
The country's biggest city has become a key battleground in the nearly year and a half uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's rule, as government forces reportedly mass ahead of what is expected to be a strong offensive against the rebels.
The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that more than 40 Syrians, including 25 civilians, were confirmed as killed Sunday across the country. The British-based group said more than 24 others were killed a day earlier. The casualties have not been independently verified.
Meanwhile, Iranian media said Tehran has asked Turkey and Qatar to help secure the release of 48 Iranian nationals kidnapped Saturday in Damascus. Iran says the victims were religious pilgrims, but a brigade commander with the Free Syrian Army describes them as elite Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
Iran backs the Syrian government, while Turkey and Qatar support the Syrian opposition.
Former Iranian President Abolhasan Bani Sadr tells VOA that the captured Iranians were not armed or wearing Revolutionary Guard uniforms. He says Iran is definitely helping President Assad and that the stakes are very high for his country.
He says that the fall of the Assad government would not only be a heavy blow to Iranian prestige and influence in the region, but it would also reinforce U.S. policy of containing Iran. He says Tehran views any toppling of President Assad as signifying that Iran's turn could be next.
International Debate Continues
The U.S. State Department announced Sunday that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will visit Turkey later this week to discuss the deteriorating situation in Syria.
The United Nations General Assembly on Friday voted overwhelmingly to condemn the Security Council for its failure to act and condemned the Syrian regime for using heavy weapons.
Kofi Annan's Six-Point Peace Plan
- A Syrian-led political process to address the aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people.
- A U.N. supervised end to armed violence by all parties in Syria.
- Timely humanitarian assistance in all areas affected by fighting.
- Increasing the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained people.
- Ensuring freedom of movement for journalists.
- Respecting freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully.
The U.N. special envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, resigned Thursday in frustration with the world body's failure to act decisively to prevent the bloodshed in Syria. Mr. Annan said he could not be the only one working for peace while the fighting between Syrian forces and the rebels intensified. Mr. Annan's peace plan for Syria included an immediate cease-fire and talks on a transitional government.
Russia and China have vetoed three Security Council resolutions that would have held President Assad responsible for his failure to abide by Mr. Annan's peace plan and threatened him with sanctions.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.