ALEPPO, Syria, Aug. 9 (UPI) -- Neighborhoods in Aleppo have been cleared of Free Syrian Army fighters, an official government news agency said Thursday.
In Damascus, President Bashar Assad announced that former Health Minister Wael al-Halqi has been named prime minister, the Russian news agency RIA Novosti said. He replaces Prime Minister Riyad Hijab, who announced his defection Monday after fleeing to Jordan with his family.
The SANA agency said the rebels were taking heavy casualties in one of their major strongholds in Syria's largest city and commercial center, the Salahuddin neighborhood. Rebels told The Guardian they had withdrawn from Salahuddin.
Fadi Salem, an Aleppo native working at the Dubai School of Government, said the rebels did not get the kind of support in the city they had elsewhere in the country. He told the British newspaper the FSA caused "mass suffering" in Aleppo.
Both sides described fierce fighting in the city. A 24-year-old surgical trainee killed in a late-day regime barrage Wednesday spoke to The Independent several hours before the attack.
"I have seen guys a lot younger than me dying, suffering terrible injuries," said the doctor whose identity was not disclosed.
"I am not even on the front line with the ambulance drivers," he said. "We are just treating the injured, government soldiers as well as the [rebel fighters]. But this is a strange regime who think doctors are enemies."
In a separate Aleppo neighborhood called Bab al-Hadeed, closer to the center of the city, regime troops killed dozens of "terrorists," Syrian state TV said, using the word the regime uses to describe armed rebels.
The fighting raged as Iran was to convene a foreign ministers conference of a dozen nations Tehran said had "realistic positions" on Syria.
The countries would seek "to replace military clashes with political, indigenous approaches to settle the disputes," Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said.
Tehran did not identify the countries as of early Thursday, but The Guardian reported they were to include six Arab countries, along with Pakistan, Venezuela, India, Kazakhstan, Russia and China.
Moscow and Beijing have vetoed every U.N. Security Council action on the crisis.
Lebanon was invited but declined, The Guardian said.