This citizen journalism image provided by Shaam News Network SNN, taken on Friday, Aug. 3, 2012, purports to show pillars of smoke as a result of shelling by Syrian government forces near al-Zafaran mosque in Homs, Syria. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN) THE ASSOCIATED PRESS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS CITIZEN JOURNALIST IMAGE
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.
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.
Today hundreds of rebels attacked Aleppo's television broadcast building. They were driven away after a three-hour battle.
BEIJING (AP) -- China says it is the West that should be blamed for obstructing diplomatic and political efforts to restore order and peace in Syria.
The U.S. and other nations have criticized China and Russia for using their veto power at the U.N. Security Council to block strong Western- and Arab-backed action against President Bashar Assad.
But Wang Kejian, a deputy director of north African and west Asian affairs at the Chinese Foreign Ministry, told a news conference Saturday that some Western countries had hindered and sabotaged the political process by advocating regime change.
Wang reiterated China's stance that the solution to the Syria crisis should be a political one and its opposition to any military intervention.
MOSCOW (AP) -- There's a sign that the worldwide reaction to Syria's crackdown on rebels is putting a squeeze on the regime of President Bashar Assad.
Senior Syrian officials are pleading with Russia for financial loans and supplies of oil products. The appeals came from a Syrian delegation holding talks in Moscow.
A Syrian deputy prime minister who led the delegation said they have asked for a Russian loan to replenish Syria's hard currency reserves. They've been depleted by international embargoes on Syrian exports.
The Syrian said the loan may come within weeks. But Russian officials aren't commenting on the requests.
Syria has blamed U.S. and European Union sanctions for shortages that have left Syrians standing in long lines to pay inflated prices for cooking gas, sugar and other staples. Syria's oil minister says an EU embargo led to fuel shortages affecting 20 million Syrians, but that a deal with Russia should fix the problem. Syria would get diesel oil and other products from Russia in exchange for crude supplies.
UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The U.N. General Assembly has overwhelmingly denounced Syria's crackdown and demanded the lockdown of its chemical and biological weapons.
Friday's vote comes after the more powerful Security Council has been deadlocked by Russian and Chinese vetoes on resolutions that would open the door to sanctions on Syria.
General Assembly resolutions are unenforceable but can carry moral weight.
The resolution says "the first step in the cessation of violence has to be made by the Syrian authorities."
The General Assembly resolution's Arab sponsors this week weakened two key provisions -- a demand that President Bashar Assad resign and a call for other nations to place sanctions on Syria over its civil war.
Russia and China had objected to those provisions.
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