Iran said it was holding the United States responsible for the lives of 48 of its citizens taken hostage in Syria, AFP reports. It quoted deputy foreign minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian as saying: “Because of the United States’ manifest support of terrorist groups and the dispatch of weapons to Syria, the United States is responsible for the lives of the 48 Iranian pilgrims abducted in Damascus.” Iran’s foreign minister is due in Ankara for talks this afternoon.
• Rebels holding the Iranians said three of them were killed by government shelling, and the rest would be executed if the shelling did not stop. Rebels claims the hostages are Revolutionary Guards not pilgrims.
• Another general was among 1,137 Syrians to flee to Turkey, according to the Anatolia news agency. The general was accompanied by 12 officers and 25 injured Syrians, it said. Meanwhile, extra bodyguards have been assigned to government ministers to prevent further defections, according to The National.
• Rebels in Aleppo are weathering assaults from recently arrived loyalist units and Russian made jets, writes Martin Chulov from the city.
Aleppo is proving to be harder going for regime forces than the capital Damascus, in which they were able to chase rebels from areas they had seized in July in less than 10 days.
Despite large numbers of captured weapons, a constant stream of deserters coming their way, and news of high profile political defections, much of the rebel force acknowledges that their campaign has a long way to go.
Rebels are continuing to reinforce positions in Aleppo. So too are loyalists. “Around 20,000 moved into Aleppo [on Sunday night] said Major Abu Firad. “They are planning to first take back this neighbourhood [Salaheddine] and then move into the rest of the city.”
• The presence of foreign journalists inside Syria like Chulov and the BBC’s Paul Wood are a tangible sign of a tilt in the balance of power, according to Robert Mackey of the New York Times. He points out that the presence of foreign journalists makes it more possible to verify the competing claims of activists and the government.
One by product of the armed insurgency’s success in taking control of isolated patches of territory, even inside cities, has been the creation of an archipelago of unsafe areas inside the country that foreign journalists can be smuggled into and report from successfully.
The presence of foreign reporters is particularly important since Syrians working both for and against the government have an interest in distorting the truth to further their political aims and garner support from other countries.
• The Daily Telegraph’s Richard Spencer describes witnessing the dismembered body of child being pulled from the rubble in Aleppo after a MiG jet missed its target.
The face of ten-year-old Kausa al-Kayali was still pretty, a large bundle of thick black hair matted with dust falling over a snub-nosed face, patched red and black by the blast that killed her. Her head was attached to a torso that ended at her stomach. There was nothing else.
Spencer argues that such scenes are the result of the government tactics of bombarding civilians areas from a distance.
The regime’s media describe Aleppo as the decisive battle, yet its military has neither the skill, the morale nor the smart missiles for successful urban warfare.
The regime’s troops are circling the city. But Aleppo still was open to FSA reinforcements yesterday, and as in previous sieges, notably of Homs, bombardment is anyway easier than entrusting the streets to a demoralised army whose soldiers continue to defect.
• Assad’s forces still appear likely to retake Aleppo, according to Yezid Sayigh senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
There may come a point when the regime is so overstretched in its attempt to quell opposition and maintain control of all main population centres that its military and security apparatus starts to break down. But its ability to mass an estimated 20,000 troops for the battle of Aleppo suggests it has not yet reached that point. Once the regime’s military assets are sufficiently degraded, this correlation of forces is more likely to give way to a power-sharing deal and regime transition than to a protracted, full-fledged civil war.
• The Obama administration said the defection of Riyad Hijab as prime minister showed the Assad government was “crumbling from within”. White House spokesman Jay Carney said: “This is a sign that Assad’s grip on power is loosening. If he cannot maintain cohesion within his own inner circle, it reflects on his inability to maintain any following among the Syrian people that isn’t brought about at the point of a gun.”
• The Hijab’s defection is a PR defeat for Assad, but not necessarily one that will have a major impact on the running of the regime, according to Ian Black. Real power remains with Assad and the coterie of military and security chiefs and relatives who surround him, he writes.