UK & World News
Syrian General: We Have Retaken Damascus
The Syrian army claims it has seized the last rebel-held strongholds in the capital, Damascus, as regime forces continue to bombard the northern city of Aleppo.
A brigadier general, who did not give his name, is reported to have told journalists in Damascus that the district of Tadamun had been retaken and the military was in control of all of the capital.
"We have cleansed all the districts of Damascus, from al Midan to Mazzeh, from al Hajar al Aswad to Qadam ... to Tadamun," he said.
An anti-regime activist, Lena al Shami, was quoted as saying the rebel Free Syrian Army had withdrawn from Tadaman and would focus on "hit-and-run tactics against important regime targets".
As the violence continued, 47 Iranian pilgrims were abducted by gunmen just outside Damascus.
No group has yet claimed responsibility, although Iranian state media blamed the rebels fighting the Assad regime.
Fresh, intense fighting erupted in Damascus over two weeks ago as rebel fighters seized several districts, forcing thousands of residents to flee.
In Aleppo, Abdel Jabar Oqaida, commander of the FSA there, said the Salaheddin district had "come under the heaviest bombardment since the battle began" on July 20 but that loyalists had "not managed to advance".
Since the bombardment began, President Bashar al Assad's forces have been using jets and artillery to target positions within the city, and military observers have predicted a prolonged battle for the commercial hub.
A senior government security member has also warned that "the battle for Aleppo has not yet begun, and what is happening now is just the appetizer ... the main course will come later."
The official said more reinforcements had arrived and that at least 20,000 troops were now on the ground - but he added: "The other side are also sending reinforcements."
Because of restrictions on the movement of journalists in Syria, none of the claims can be independently verified.
Foreign Secretary William Hague told Sky News: "It does seem that the Syrian armed forces have been building up to something bigger, and that therefore we are likely, sadly, to see even more fighting, more bloodshed, and probably a bigger flow of refugees over the coming days.
"We will of course step up our humanitarian help, but also our practical help to the opposition who are in such a desperate situation."
He added that the practical help would be "non lethal".
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says July was the deadliest month since the uprising against Mr Assad's regime erupted in March 2011.
The watchdog claims 4,239 people, the vast majority civilians, died last month, bringing the overall toll since March 2011 to more than 21,000.