16 killed by gunmen in an attack on power company in Homs

16 killed by gunmen in an attack on power company in Homs

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday vowed to "cleanse the country of terrorists," while Iran reassured him that it would not allow the rebels to defeat the "axis of resistance", dpa reported.

"The Syrian people and their government are determined to purge the country of terrorists and to fight the terrorists without respite," al-Assad said, according to state news agency SANA.

It was al-Assad's first TV appearance in more than two weeks. State television said he made the remarks in Damascus during talks with Saeed Jalili, a top aide to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

"Iran will not allow the axis of resistance, of which it considers Syria to be an essential part, to be broken in any way," state television quoted Jalili as saying. The "axis of resistance" refers to an alliance between Iran, Syria and the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah.

The Syrian leader was last seen in television footage in July, when he received the new chief of the army, General Ali Abdullah Ayub, days after a bombing in Damascus killed four key members of the president's inner circle.

Meanwhile, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported late Tuesday that 16 civilians, were killed in an attack on a housing compound for power company employees near the central province of Homs.

"Gunmen stormed the Jandar Residential Compound, firing randomly at people and killing 16 Syrians, among them six Christians, six Alawites and four Sunnis," the observatory said.

The Alwaites, is an offshoot of Shiite Islam, to whom al-Assad belongs. The observatory said foreigners, mainly Iranians and Japanese also live inside the Jandar compound.

Al-Assad's appearance on Tuesday comes a day after Prime Minister Riad Hijab defected to the opposition. Hijab's whereabouts are not known.

Jalili arrived in Damascus a few days after a rebel group claimed responsibility for holding 48 hostages - 47 Iranians and an Afghan - who were seized from their bus in Damascus on Saturday.

The group said Monday that three of the hostages were killed in shelling by government forces in suburban Damascus.

The Al-Baraa Brigade of the rebel Free Syrian Army threatened on its Facebook page to "execute the prisoners who are proven members of the (Iranian) Revolutionary Guard if the shelling continues."

Tehran, however, has denied that any of the Iranian hostages are members of the elite Revolutionary Guard.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said that with the kidnapping of the "pilgrims, the US and the pro-rebel countries try to directly involve Iran in the conflict in Syria and further push Iran into a conflict with the Arab states."

Activists reported earlier that al-Assad's soldiers were pressing ahead with a two-week military campaign to drive rebels out of Aleppo, Syria's largest city and the place where the course of the 17-month conflict could be decided.

"The city is now fully surrounded by tanks, and Syrian troops have positioned heavy artillery and rocket launchers in areas on the outskirts of Aleppo in preparation for a major onslaught," Bassam al-Halabi, an activist in Aleppo, told dpa.

Al-Halabi said the Salaheddine neighbourhood, in the south-west of the city, had experienced shelling from regime forces throughout Tuesday.

Rebels claimed they had seized a key army checkpoint, connecting the north-eastern outskirts of Aleppo with the city centre.

Opposition activists reported that at least 130, including the 16 civilians, were killed across Syria.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said Syria urgently needed shipments of medicines because the country's pharmaceutical plants had been damaged in the conflict.

"The Syrian health sector is experiencing severe shortages in medicines and pharmaceutical products," WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said in Geneva, adding that sanctions and rising fuel costs had made the problem worse.

Most of the pharmaceutical factories are located in regions where the violence has been escalating - around Aleppo, Damascus and Homs in central Syria.

More than 20,000 people have been killed in the country since the anti-government revolt started in March 2011, according to the opposition.

In Amman, Jordan's King Abdullah II expressed concern over the use of chemical weapons in neighboring Syria, warning that an ongoing failure to solve the conflict is tipping the country towards an "abyss."

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