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Prime minister who defected says Syrian regime near collapse
In the video with the Lebanese captive, a man identifies himself as Hassane Salim al-Mikdad and says he was one of 1,500 Hezbollah fighters sent to Syria on Aug. 3. The video was said to have been released by rebels and was aired by Arab satellite TV Al-Arabiya on Tuesday.
“Most of those who entered were snipers,” said the captive, whose face showed bruises as three masked gunmen stood behind him. A man who could not be seen was asking the hostage questions.
The captive then says that the Hezbollah leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, gathered the men before they headed to Syria and told them that they should go to “support the Shiite regime and the Shiite army against Sunni gangs.” The authenticity of the video could not be independently confirmed.
Hezbollah issued a statement early Tuesday saying it “categorically denies that Mr. Hassane Salim al-Mikdad is one of its members.”
There have been several attacks and abductions in Syria of Shiites from Lebanon, Iran and Iraq over the past months that were blamed on Syrian rebels. In May, Syrian rebels captured 11 Lebanese Shiites shortly after they crossed from Turkey on their way to Lebanon.
Earlier this month, Syrian rebels captured 48 Iranians near Damascus. Rebels claim the Iranians include members of Tehran’s Revolutionary Guard and were on a “reconnaissance mission” in the Syrian capital. Iran insists the men were on a religious pilgrimage.
The Lebanese apparently are being held to try to pressure the government in Beirut to show greater support for the Syrian rebels — which is unlikely because of Hezbollah’s strong influence and backing of Mr. Assad.
Also, many Iraqi Shiites, streaming back to their homeland in the past month to escape the conflict in Syria, reported a rash of attacks against their community, apparently by Sunni rebel gunmen. In July, 23 Iraqi Shiites were killed in Syria, some of them beheaded, according to the Washington-based Shiite Rights Watch. In one gruesome case, the U.N. said an Iraqi family of seven was killed at gunpoint in their Damascus apartment.
The motives for the attacks on Iraqis are unclear. They may be revenge against any Iraqi because the Shiite-led Iraqi government is seen as siding with Mr. Assad.
In other violence across Syria on Tuesday, activists reported clashes and shelling in the northern city of Aleppo, the southern province of Daraa, suburbs of Damascus and the northwestern region of Idlib.
On Monday, gunmen abducted Ahmad Sattouf, the correspondent of Iran’s Arabic-language TV al-Alam, in the central city of Homs, his wife told the Associated Press. She said he was taken from his office and his whereabouts are unknown.
The state-run Syrian news agency, SANA, said one of its reporters was wounded Monday while covering clashes in Aleppo.
Associated Press writers Bassem Mroue in Beirut, Albert Aji in Damascus and John Heilprin in Geneva contributed to this report.
By Donald Lambro
Growth spikes are little more than trend-free anomalies
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