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Foreign fighters join Syria battle

LONDON, July 31 (KUNA) -- More foreign fighters will pour into Syria the longer president Bashar Assad maintains his grip on power, the British Government said Tuesday.
Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt warned the worsening civil war would attract jihadists to the country to fill the void created by fierce battles between Assad's forces and rebels.
In a interview with the BBC domestic radio, he would not confirm claims from a British war photographer held hostage in Syria that 30 percent of his captors were British jihadists.
"It must be true to say that since the initial pressure and opposition against the Assad regime, which was local, the fight has been joined by others, " Burt said.
"We said at a very early stage that unless this finished early, unless the proposals to have a ceasefire and get political transition going in Syria among Syrians happened, then the fight would be joined by others from outside. There is clear evidence of this.
"The longer it goes on, without that ceasefire and political discussion, the worse that will get." Burt noted that the battle for Syria's second city, Aleppo, showed why a United Nations Security Council resolution increasing the pressure on Assad should have been agreed earlier this month.
The move was vetoed by the Russians and Chinese.
British war photographer John Cantalie, 41, was rescued last week after being held prisoner for a week at an Islamic extremism training camp in north west Syria.
He told The Sunday Times newspaper "30 percent of the jihadists who held us were British." The UK security services have been increasingly worried in recent years about British-born terrorists travelling abroad to join Islamist fighters in jihad across the world.
But Burt said today, "We have no accurate knowledge of how many people might be involved and from where." His comments came 24 hours after Syria's top diplomat in Britain quit his post in protest at President's Assad "violent and oppressive" regime." In a blow to Damascus, charge d'affaires Khaled Al-Ayoubi informed the British authorities that he was "no longer willing" to represent the government amid the brutal repression of rebels.
Meanwhile, fighting in Aleppo entered its 11th day amid growing international condemnation of the government's crackdown on rebels.
Activists reported renewed bombardments of rebel-held neighbourhoods and clashes in many parts of Syria's largest city as the army pushed on with its offensive to retake the key northern city.
The battle for Aleppo, Syria's business hub with around three million residents, has now lasted longer than the rebel assault on the capital that regime troops crushed earlier this month.
Burt said it was difficult to tell who held the upper hand in the battle for Aleppo.
"There is evidence government forces have been able to retake some areas of the city, but the opposition forces are also still strong.
"It does illustrate the weakness of Assad's position some time ago when he said Aleppo was a cornerstone for them.
"It shows that the regime's support is not as strong as he had indicated.
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