Aleppo: Rebels have been forced to pull back from the strategic Syrian district of Aleppo by government forces, but reports of clashes continued to pour in from the city on a day the United Nations said that the conflict was not going to lead to victory for anyone.
Diplomats told a news agency that veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi may be appointed as the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria after Kofi Annan quit in frustration following no let-up in violence.
Assad, engaged in an all-consuming fight with his mostly Sunni opponents, appointed a Sunni as his new prime minister on Thursday after his predecessor fled on Monday in the highest-level defection so far in the uprising that began 17 months ago.
Wael al-Halki, from the southern province of Deraa where the revolt began, replaces Riyad Hijab, who had spent only two months in the job before making a dramatic escape across the border to Jordan.
Assad`s authority was already shaken by the assassination last month of four of his top security officials and by rebel gains in Damascus, Aleppo and swathes of rural Syria.
But he has persevered with a crackdown on opponents seeking to end half a century of Baathist rule and topple a system dominated by members of the president`s minority Alawite sect.
He has focused his fierce Army counter-offensive on Syria`s two main cities, reasserting control over much of the capital Damascus before taking the fight to the northern commercial hub.
Rebels fighting in the Aleppo district of Salaheddine, a southern gateway to the city, said they had been forced to fall back from frontline positions on Thursday by a fierce bombardment which had reduced buildings to rubble.
"There have been some withdrawals of Free Syrian Army fighters from Salaheddine," rebel commander Abu Ali said. Others said the main frontlines in the area, which had been held by rebels for more than a week, were now deserted.
As the battle for Aleppo raged, Iran, Assad`s closest foreign backer, called for "serious and inclusive" negotiations between the Syrian government and opposition.
Assad has repeatedly said he is ready for dialogue, but he has vowed to crush the armed rebels he says are terrorists. His opponents say he must step aside before any talks, arguing negotiations would be meaningless while the bloodshed persists.
Iran made the call after gathering diplomats from like-minded states in Tehran for talks on the conflict not attended by Western and most Middle Eastern states, which have demanded Assad end his family`s 40-year rule.
(With Agency inputs)