Syria's president welcomed a top official Tuesday from Iran, a friend and ally of the much reviled and increasingly isolated government in Damascus.
Saeed Jalili, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, met with President Bashar al-Assad to discuss resolving the 17-month-long civil war and rescue several Iranians who were kidnapped over the weekend.
State TV showed footage of the men, in the first video of al-Assad that has surfaced since last month.
Jalili called on Syrians to sit down and forge a solution to the crisis, which morphed into a nationwide uprising and civil war after government forces cracked down on peaceful protesters in March 2011.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran believes in a Syrian solution based on national dialogue among all Syrian groups to settle the country's issues, and does not consider foreign approaches as useful," Jalili said, according to Iran's state-run Press TV.
Syrian and Iranian news outlets have reported that 48 Shiite pilgrims from Iran were abducted Saturday.
But rebels say the Iranians are military personnel, an assertion that Iran denies.
Iran's Foreign Ministry is working through diplomatic channels to get the people freed and is engaging with other countries about Syria.
It has summoned the charge d'affaires of Switzerland to protest the abduction and urge the United States to use its influence to free the abducted Iranians.
The Swiss Embassy represents U.S.
interests in Iran because the United States and Iran lack diplomatic relations.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi is expected to visit Turkey on Tuesday as well, with Syria on the list of regional issues to be discussed, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal said Tuesday.
The Syrian and Iranian officials met as violence raged in Aleppo, Syria's most populous city, and Damascus and its suburbs.
The opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said at least 100 people have been killed across the nation Tuesday.
Also, there are fears of a major Syrian military assault on Aleppo as rebels and regime forces fight for control of the sprawling metropolis.
State TV said special forces engaged terrorist groups in Aleppo and caused big losses to them, including casualties and injuries.
The LCC said at least 23 people died in Aleppo, including 10 "field-executed" prisoners.
Artillery shells fell on several Aleppo neighborhoods Tuesday morning "amid a state of panic among residents," opposition activists said.
"Many people" were injured in the Shaar neighborhood, which is suffering a humanitarian crisis amid a lack of doctors and medical supplies, the LCC said.
In one instance, men, women and children waited 1½ hours to receive free bread from the rebel Free Syrian Army.
Many started to pack up and leave.
Amnesty International released a series of satellite images from the Aleppo area, including one that shows "more than 600 probable artillery impact craters" in the nearby town of Anadan.
"Turning Syria's most populous city into a battlefield will have devastating consequences for civilians.
The atrocities in Syria are mounting already," said Christoph Koettl, emergency response manager for Amnesty International USA.
"The Syrian military and the opposition fighters must both adhere to international humanitarian law, which strictly forbids the use of tactics and weapons that fail to distinguish between military and civilian targets."
The LCC said 26 people died in Damascus and its suburbs, where raids, artillery shelling and arrests are reported.
The Damascus suburban town of Kafr Batna "is witnessing a mass exodus due to the presence of masses of military and security reinforcements; residents fear the city will be stormed," the LCC said.
The visit comes a day after the latest blow to the regime: the defection of Riyad Hijab, who was Syria's prime minister for the last two months.
Hijab cited the "killing and terrorist regime" as a reason for his defection.
Mohammed al-Etri, Hijab's spokesman, said Hijab had been planning to defect even before he was chosen as prime minister.
Al-Etri said Hijab had no choice but to take the job because the regime would have killed him if he had declined.
He said the former prime minister was going to leave three weeks ago but delayed the defection because of tensions after the bombing that killed four top security officials in Damascus last month.
It is not clear precisely where Hijab is.
Initially, opposition and Jordanian sources said he went across the border to Jordan.
But his spokesman and the government wouldn't say where he is.
Al-Etri said Hijab is in a safe place in a neighboring Arab country, is in good health and plans to move to another nation.
The chaos in Syria prompted 1,316 civilians and 12 soldiers to flee to Turkey on Monday night, Unal, the Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Tuesday.
The soldiers included one brigadier general, he said on Twitter.
"With the latest arrivals, the number of our Syrian guests living in the shelter centers in our country reached close to 47,500," Unal said.
"These numbers and the numbers of Syrians in other countries show how grave the situation in Syria is."
Roughly 17,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began, U.N.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said last month.
The opposition put the toll at more than 20,000.