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Damascus (AFP) Feb 25, 2013
The Syrian regime has denied firing Scud missiles at armed rebels, including in Aleppo where a watchdog says 58 people were killed when missiles hit the northern city, a Russian broadcaster quoted a Syrian minister as saying on Monday.
The regime "denies the use by Syrian forces of Scud missiles in battles against the armed opposition," Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi said in an interview with Arabic-language Russia Today.
Syria's opposition and activists have accused the regime army of firing three powerful missiles at Aleppo city from military base 155 near Damascus on Friday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says at least 58 people, among them 36 children, were killed when the surface-to-surface missiles struck the Tariq al-Bab district in eastern Aleppo city.
The strikes triggered severe condemnation from Washington which described the incident as "the latest demonstrations of the Syrian regime's ruthlessness and its lack of compassion for the Syrian people it claims to represent".
In a separate interview, Zohbi denied allegations that members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards were fighting alongside the Syrian army against rebels.
"There isn't a single Iranian -- Revolutionary Guard or otherwise -- on the battlefield, or intervening directly in the Syrian army's mission," Zohbi told Iranian Arabic-language television channel Al-Alam.
Any suggestion that Iranians have joined the battle against the insurgency is "an attempt to undermine the Syrian state and Iran", he said, adding that it is "difficult to sabotage ... historic" relations between Damascus and its key regional ally Tehran.
He also dismissed reports that fighters of Lebanon's powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah were participating in the regime's fight against rebels.
"One thing needs to be made absolutely clear, there is not a single Hezbollah fighter in Syria," said Zohbi.
"This is pure deception, the Syrian army has absolutely no need of such help," he said, insisting that the army needed neither "fighters nor weapons".
The rebels "want to justify the intervention of terrorist fighters coming to Syria from several countries", Zohbi said, referring to the influx of foreign fighters who have joined the insurgency.
Syria's opposition has accused Hezbollah of firing at rebel positions inside the strife-torn country from across the Lebanese border.
Turkey, US blast Assad regime as Aleppo toll rises
"Every day a large number of innocent children and women fall dead in Syria," Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a key backer of Syria's opposition, said on a visit to the United Arab Emirates.
"We will not remain silent on those committing crimes against their people... We will not remain silent on the brutal dictator in Syria."
Turkey's southern neighbour has been locked in a 23-months-long conflict in which the United Nations estimates over 70,000 people have been killed.
On Sunday alone, according to a toll compiled by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 105 people were killed in violence across the country.
Early in the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad's regime, Turkey broke ties with Damascus and led international calls for his ouster.
Ankara has since backed the uprising against Assad by offering shelter to defectors from Assad's army and hosting opposition meetings, while some 200,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Turkey, many of them living in squalid camps.
Erdogan's statement came as the French foreign ministry confirmed that freelance photographer Olivier Voisin, who was seriously wounded in Syria on Thursday, died of his wounds after surgery in Turkey.
Meanwhile the Observatory, a Britain-based monitoring group, updated its death toll from a missile attack on Friday on the northern city of Aleppo, saying it killed at least 58 people, among them 36 children.
Washington on Saturday condemned the Assad regime "in the strongest possible terms" for the strike, which activists say was carried out using surface-to-surface missiles.
The army's deadly missile strikes were "the latest demonstrations of the Syrian regime's ruthlessness and its lack of compassion for the Syrian people it claims to represent", said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
She repeated Washington's call for Assad to step down.
"The Assad regime has no legitimacy and remains in power only through brute force," Nuland said.
In Paris, a foreign ministry spokeswoman confirmed that Voisin, 38, had died, after he suffered head and arm injuries from shrapnel when a shell exploded near the northwest Syrian province of Idlib.
His pictures have been published in major French and British newspapers and he collaborated with AFP in January, providing about a dozen pictures from Aleppo.
His death takes the number of reporters who have perished in Syria to at least 21, according to a count by AFP and Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders.
"France once again pays homage to the work of journalists who risk their lives for freedom of expression," French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said in a statement.
The news came as activists reported the killing in a war-torn district of southern Damascus of a prominent Syrian comedian, Yassin Bakush.
Activists say he died in the Assali district after his car was hit by a shell.
Meanwhile, the jihadist Al-Nusra Front claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on an army factory earlier this month in the central city of Hama that left at least 60 people dead.
In northern Syria on Sunday, rebels closed in on a police academy in the town of Khan al-Assal in Aleppo province, as warplanes bombarded their positions there, the Observatory said.
The rebels already have large swathes of northern Syria under their control, chiefly Idlib province to the northwest, Raqa and Hasake east of Aleppo.
The army used tanks to shell the Tariq al-Bab district in eastern Aleppo city, the Observatory added, just two days after dropping three powerful missiles there.
According to a Dubai-based military analyst, the Syrian army's use of missiles shows "it is trying to spread the maximum terror possible.
"Also, it shows the air force is no longer as effective, because the rebels have acquired air defence capabilities, and have hit helicopters and warplanes at an increased ratio in recent weeks," Riad Kahwaji told AFP.