Syrian President Bashar Assad urged his military Wednesday to boost its fight against rebels, but his written call to arms only deepened a mystery over his whereabouts two weeks after a bomb penetrated his inner circle.
Two Italian engineers who were kidnapped and held captive for eight days in Syria have returned to Italy.
Syrian government tanks backed by attack helicopters swept into Aleppo on Saturday as the regime launched an assault to regain control of the country's largest city a week after rebels seized several neighborhoods.
The Arab League chief urged exiled Syrian opposition figures to unite at a meeting Monday as a new Western effort to force President Bashar Assad from power faltered. Another 85 soldiers, including a general, fled to Turkey in a growing wave of defections.
Turkey's state-run news agency said nearly 300 Syrians have defected to Turkey, including 85 soldiers.
Syria's military remains loyal despite recent high-profile defections, while the opposition remains fragmented and unable to attack as a unified force, indicating a long, protracted conflict ahead, U.S. intelligence officials said.
Syria's conflict heated up Tuesday with rebels battling the regime's elite Republican Guard forces in the suburbs of the capital, Damascus, as Turkey's prime minister threatened to defend his country's territory from Syrian military encroachments in response to the nation's downing of a Turkish war plane Friday.
International envoy Kofi Annan said Monday he was "gravely concerned" about the escalation of fighting in Syria, citing the shelling of opposition areas in central Homs province and reports of mortar, helicopter and tank attacks near the Mediterranean coast.
The U.S. warned Syria it won't be able to deceive the world about compliance with a cease-fire that is just days away, as regime forces pounded more opposition strongholds Saturday in an apparent rush to crush resistance before troops must withdraw. Activists said more than 100 people were killed, including at least 87 civilians.