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Aleppo Bombarded, Damascus 'Retaken' By Government Forces

Aleppo is Syria's second city.
Heavy fighting continued in Syria's second city Aleppo, with government forces reportedly using artillery and planes to pound rebel positions.
A rebel commander was quoted as saying on August 4 his fighters were preparing for a "strong offensive," while a senior government security official warned: “What is happening now is just the appetizer...the main course will come later."
The BBC reports that some 20,000 Syrian troops are apparently massed around Aleppo.
In Damascus, President Bashar al-Assad's forces claimed to have pushed out rebels from their last stronghold.
The fighting came as 48 Iranian pilgrims were kidnapped near a Shi'ite shrine in a Damascus suburb.
Both Iranian diplomats and Syrian state television blamed the kidnapping on "armed groups."
Al-Arabiya television aired footage on August 5 it said it had obtained from Syrian rebels of the Iranians kidnapped in Damascus, in which a rebel fighter accuses the hostages of being elite Revolutionary Guards.
In the video screened by the Dubai-based channel, a man dressed as an officer of the rebel Free Syrian Army says the rebels "captured 48 of the shabiha [militiamen] of Iran who were on a reconnaissance mission in Damascus."
There has been no word yet on the fate of the pilgrims.
Iran's state news agency IRNA meanwhile reported on August 5 that Tehran has asked Turkey and Qatar to help secure the release of the 48 Iranians.
IRNA reported that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Qatari counterpart Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al-Thani agreed to help seek the pilgrims' release during separate phone conversations with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi.
Several Iranians have been abducted in Syria since the uprising against President Assad began 17 months ago, and many have been released to Turkish authorities before returning to Iran, according to Iranian media.
The UN estimates that 19,000 people have died in 17 months of unrest.

Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters

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