Syrian rebels seized another border crossing with Turkey on Wednesday, consolidating their grip on a frontier through which they ferry arms for battles with President Bashar al-Assad's troops around the northern city of Aleppo.
Turkey confirmed the fall of the Tel Abyad border post, the third of seven main crossings along the Turkish-Syrian frontier to come under rebel control – though Syrian state media spoke only of bloody fighting in the area.
In a war of slowly shifting frontlines, rebels in Damascus said they were pulling back from southern parts of the capital after weeks of bombardment of a kind condemned as a war crime by Amnesty International, which accused Mr. al-Assad's forces on Wednesday of targeting areas near clinics and bakeries to kill civilians.
A general who defected to the rebel side was also quoted as saying Syrian commanders had discussed using chemical weapons – a move U.S. President Barack Obama has said could prompt U.S. action.
In the latest outside intervention to try to end 18 months of conflict, the foreign minister of Iran, Mr. al-Assad's key regional sponsor, met the President in Damascus to discuss proposals from a four-power grouping of Iran, Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, quoted by Syrian state television, assured the President of "unlimited support" in efforts to "restore peace and stability" after reforms he had made. Mr. al-Assad was quoted as saying he would welcome an "equitable solution that meets the interests of the Syrian people."
There was no clear reference to what the four regional powers – whose interests rarely coincide – may be suggesting. Iran and Russia have resisted demands by the rebels and their allies that Mr. al-Assad step aside first to make way for compromise.
Syria's opposition scoff at the idea of Iran playing a role in peacemaking given its support for Mr. al-Assad. An intelligence report by a Western agency and seen by Reuters said Iran has used Iraqi airspace to fly in weapons and military personnel to Syria – something the Iraqi government denied, but which Baghdad's U.S. sponsors believe to be true.
Activists who collate data from across Syria said 170 people, mostly civilians, had been killed on Tuesday, a typical daily figure of late. Protests that began in March last year and were met with force have become a civil war in which more than 27,000 have died so far. The last month was the bloodiest yet.