Assad appears on TV with Iranian security chief

The Washington Post reports: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made a rare appearance with the head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council on Tuesday in video footage broadcast on state television.

Assad has made one appearance since the assassination of four top security officials on July 18. In video footage broadcast the following day, he was shown swearing in a new defense minister.

Saeed Jalili, a top security official in Iran and the country’s lead nuclear negotiator, visited Damascus on Tuesday to discuss the fate of 48 Iranians captured by rebels just outside the capital on Saturday, as well as the ongoing crisis in Syria.

“Kidnapping innocent people is not acceptable anywhere in the world,” Jalili said, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency. He said Iran would do what it could to “secure release of the 48 innocent pilgrims kidnapped in Syria.”

He also said the only way to resolve the unrest in the country would be to find a “Syrian solution.”

The Iranian government claims that the captives were Shiite pilgrims on their way to Sayida Zeinab, a Muslim shrine south of Damascus that is popular with Shiites. But rebels assert that the Iranians belong to their country’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps and were on a mission to help the Assad government battle Syria’s persistent 17-month-long uprising.

Jalili’s visit came a day after Syria’s prime minister defected to Jordan, becoming the most senior official to quit Assad’s embattled government, according to rebels who claim they helped him escape.

The reported defection of Prime Minister Riyad al-Hijab buoyed the rebels, who saw it as a clear sign that top officials are abandoning Assad as he attempts

A statement attributed to Hijab and read on the al-Jazeera Arabic news channel Monday said he had resigned to protest his government’s harsh tactics in confronting the opposition.

“I am announcing that I am defecting from this regime, which is a murderous and terrorist regime,” the statement said. “I join the ranks of this dignified revolution.”

Real power in Syria is wielded by Assad’s inner circle of friends, family and the powerful chiefs of his security forces. But the defection of the head of Assad’s government nonetheless sent a strong signal that his support is rapidly unraveling even within the ranks of those assumed to still be loyal.

Hijab, a former agriculture minister and a member of the ruling Baath Party, is a Sunni Muslim from the eastern town of Deir al-Zour, which has been in open revolt against the government for more than a year.

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