BEIRUT — As Syrian forces struggled to drive rebels from the country's largest city, the regime's key ally Iran tried Thursday to start an alternative political process to address the crisis.
Iran gathered an array of nations ranging from strong supporters of Damascus to far-flung nations a world away from the Syrian civil war.
The one-day forum is unlikely to result in any international consensus, but it shows Iran's resolve to stand by President Bashar Assad.
On Thursday, rebels said they were low on ammunition but still managed to put up resistance against a regime ground offensive in Aleppo.
Tehran billed Thursday's conference as a way to focus on dialogue — an alternative to Western-led initiatives that call for Assad to give up power.
Iran has said the Syrian regime's critics fail to take into account violence by the rebels.
"Iran is against the killing of unarmed people and citizens by any side," Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said at the gathering.
He also warned that sending weapons to the opposition will only fuel the crisis, and he accused rebels of using civilians as "human shields."
Syrian rebels last week intercepted a bus carrying 48 Iranians in a Damascus suburb and seized them. Rebels claimed the men are military personnel, including some members of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard, who were on a "reconnaissance mission" to help Assad's crackdown.
Iran, however, says the 48 were pilgrims visiting a Shiite shrine in Damascus. Salehi said some of the pilgrims are retired members of the army and Revolutionary Guard.