By BASSEM MROUE
Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, sits in a meeting at the presidency office, in Tehran, Iran, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2013. Iran’s supreme leader formally endorsed Hasan Rouhani as president Saturday, allowing the moderate cleric to take charge of a country weakened by economic sanctions over its nuclear program. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
BEIRUT (AP) — Iran’s new president expressed his country’s support to Syria’s embattled leader Bashar Assad’s regime Sunday, saying no force in the world will be able to shake their decades-old alliance.
Hasan Rouhani’s comments came as Syrian troops and rebels fought some of the fiercest battles in the mountains of the coastal province of Latakia, an Assad stronghold.
Syria’s state-run news agency SANA said Rouhani made the comments during a meeting in the Iranian capital of Tehran on Sunday with Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi.
Syria has been Tehran’s strongest ally in the Arab world since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Iran has been one of Assad’s strongest backers since Syria’s crisis began. Tehran is believed to have supplied Assad’s government with billions of dollars since the country’s crisis began in March 2011. Iran-supported Hezbollah also has sent fighters into Syria to bolster an offensive by Assad forces.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran aims to strengthen its relations with Syria and will stand by it in facing all challenges,” SANA quoted Rouhani as saying in a report from Tehran. “The deep, strategic and historic relations between the people of Syria and Iran … will not be shaken by any force in the world.”
Rouhani was elected in June and was endorsed by the country’s supreme leader on Saturday, allowing him to begin acting as president. He was sworn in Sunday.
Rouhani condemned foreign intervention in Syria, saying that the Arab country is passing through a “failed attempt” to strike at the “axis of resistance and rejection to Zionist-American plans in the region,” SANA quoted him as saying.
Damascus and Tehran reject the idea that there is an uprising in Syria and say the country is being subjected to an Israeli-American conspiracy because of its support to militant groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
SANA quoted Rouhani as saying that Syria will come out of this war “victorious.”
Al-Halqi said the Syrian people will “not forget friends who stood by their side during times of difficulties,” SANA reported.
More than 100,000 people have been killed since the uprising against the Assad family’s four-decade rule began in March 2011. The revolt later escalated into a civil war, which has uprooted millions of people from their homes.
Also Sunday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the clashes in the Jabal al-Akrad region in Latakia province began around dawn when rebels attacked government forces’ posts. It said both sides used tanks, artilleries and mortars in the fighting, while government warplanes took part in the battles.
Although much of Latakia has been under the firm control of Assad’s forces, some mountainous regions such as Jabal al-Akrad and Jabal al-Turkomen have witnessed fighting because they are close to rebel-held areas.
The observatory said 12 rebels, including foreign fighters, were killed in the fighting, as well as 19 troops and pro-government gunmen. Dozens were wounded as well, it said.
The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, said at least eight people were killed in the fighting in Latakia province. It added that rebels fired Russian-made Grad rockets at government positions.