Syrian troops push into Aleppo to oust rebels
The regime has been hit by a wave of defections, most recently by Prime Minister Riad Hijab.
The rebel Free Syrian Army and a Jordanian security official said Hijab arrived in Jordan on Wednesday, two days after hiding in a ‘‘safe location’’ inside Syria near the border.
FSA leader Ahmed Kassem, who told The Associated Press on Monday that Hijab had defected to Jordan, said Wednesday that he had actually been inside Syrian territory for the past two days waiting to cross. He said his earlier account was meant to ‘‘confuse the Syrian regime over the prime minister’s whereabouts.’’
A Jordanian security official said Hijab’s escape was coordinated between the Jordanian army and FSA. He insisted on anonymity because he is not allowed to speak to the media.
Assad has been forced to rely on a shrinking list of allies, including Iran. Senior Iranian envoy Saeed Jalili visited Damascus on Tuesday, appearing with Assad in a show of solidarity.
The rebels have blasted Iran’s influence in the country, and over the weekend rebel forces intercepted a bus carrying 48 Iranians and kidnapped them. Rebels claimed the men are military personnel, including some members of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard who were on a ‘‘reconnaissance mission’’ to help Assad’s crackdown on the uprising.
Iran initially said the 48 were pilgrims visiting a Shiite shrine in Damascus. The Iranian foreign minister said Wednesday that some of the kidnapped Iranians are retired members of the army and Revolutionary Guard.
‘‘The Islamic Republic of Iran has announced openly that some of the pilgrims kidnapped are retired members of the Guard and the Army,’’ Iran’s official IRNA news agency quoted Salehi as saying during a visit to Turkey.
‘‘If these people had been dispatched to Syria for specific purposes, then how did they drive in a normal bus without equipment and holding their identification cards?’’ Salehi asked.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is the nation’s largest military force.
AP writers Elizabeth A. Kennedy in Beirut, Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, Jamal Halaby in Amman, Jordan, and Ali Akbar Dareini in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.