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Battles Rage Amid Kidnappings

8:22 PM, Aug 4, 2012   |    comments
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BEIRUT (AP) - As Syrian troops try to crush one of the last rebel-dominated neighborhoods in Damascus, there's word that gunmen have kidnapped 47 Iranian pilgrims just outside the city.

The Iranian state news agency, IRNA, says the pilgrims were on a bus taking them to the airport after visiting a Shiite shrine.

No one has claimed responsibility, but Iranian state media blamed the rebels. Predominantly Shiite Iran is a close ally of the beleaguered Syrian government.

Late Saturday, Iran's semiofficial Fars news agency announced that Syrian forces had freed the hostages, but cited no source. There was no confirmation from the Syrians.

A few miles from the site of the kidnapping, regime forces have encircled a southern Damascus neighborhood that's a bastion of rebel support. Heavy explosions shook the area today.

The bulk of the fighting in Syria is taking place more than 200 miles north of Damascus in Aleppo, the country's largest city. Rebels seized several neighborhoods there two weeks ago and have proved difficult to dislodge.

Saturday hundreds of rebels attacked Aleppo's television broadcast building. They were driven away after a three-hour battle.

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