Syrian rebels backed by radical Islamists captured a northern regimental command center of President Bashar al-Assad's army, activists said on Sunday, as Russia dismissed speculation that it is preparing for its ally's possible exit from power.
'Rebels have made a series of advances in recent weeks, partly due to help from radicals such as Jabhat al-Nusra, a group linked to Al Qaeda in Iraq which has been excluded from a newly-formed rebel military command.'
[However] 'Rebels have been targeting Iranians in Syria, many of whom it accuses of belonging to Iranian security forces. Iran has been Assad's main bankroller and backer in the region. Rebels are also holding 48 Iranians which Tehran says were pilgrims.'
'Washington and its NATO allies, who have thrown their weight behind the opposition, are pressing for Assad's departure to end the conflict in Syria, which has taken more than 40,000 lives.'
'............Western officials have recently cited intelligence reports that Assad may turn to chemical weapons.'
'Russia and China have blocked U.N. resolutions against Assad, saying they oppose foreign intervention in the conflict.'
'Russia, Syria's main arms supplier, dismissed suggestions from observers that its support for Assad might be softening.'