Syrian President Bashar Assad appeared on television for the first time in two weeks on Tuesday in footage showing him meeting Saeed Jalili, the head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, in Damascus.
Assad's appearance came the day after his prime minister defected to rebels who have been waging a 17-month campaign to oust him.
Assad's absence had fuelled rumors about his health, including a hoax Twitter message on Monday that quoted Russia's ambassador to Damascus as saying Assad might have been killed.
Russian officials quickly denied the report.
In the week after a July 18 bombing which killed four members of his inner circle, Assad was shown twice in silent footage on television, swearing in a new defense minister and meeting military officials.
Jalili landed in Damascus after a two-day visit to Beirut, where he warned against supporting the rebels in Syria. "Those who believe that, by developing insecurity in the countries of the region by sending arms and exporting terrorism, they are buying security for themselves are wrong," he told Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour, according to the official news agency IRNA.
"We believe that Syria's friends must help to totally stop the violence, organize national dialogue and general elections in this country, and send humanitarian aid for the Syrian population," the agency quoted Jalili as saying.
Syrian news agencies quoted Jalili as saying that Iran would not allow anyone to destroy the "axis of opposition" – what he termed the alliance between Iran, Syria and Hezbollah.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Syrians were reportedly killed in clashes across the country. The largest battles took place in Aleppo. While the Syria Air Force is bombing entire neighborhoods, opposition members were able to take over several buildings belonging to the security service. Rebels were also able to take over entire neighborhoods in Aleppo.
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