TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Authorities held a commemoration Sunday for a commander of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards who was killed in Syria, the Islamic Republic's state news agency reported.
The death of Gen. Abdollah Eskandari underscores Iran's high-level, hands-on involvement in the Syrian conflict, where it has sided with its close ally, President Bashar Assad, to quell an uprising against his rule.
The uprising began as largely peaceful protests in March 2011, but has since spun into a 3-year-old civil war.
The official IRNA news agency said the country's defense minister sent a condolence message in which he said Eskandari was killed as he joined defenders of the Sayida Zeinab shrine. The site, holy to Shiite Muslims, is south of the capital, Damascus, in an area contested by rebels and pro-government forces. IRNA did not say when he died.
Iran is a regional Shiite power. It has provided training, weapons and cash to help support Assad, but the government has said its military officers only serve in an advisory role. Rebels and anti-government activists say Iran has sent combat troops, something the Islamic Republic denies.
In Syria, activists and Lebanese media reported intensified shelling targeting government-held areas of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo.
Rami Abdurrahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Lebanese channel al-Mayadeen, which closely follows the conflict, said rebels fired mortar shells and gas canisters packed with explosives. Those weapons cannot be precisely targeted.
Al-Mayadeen said Sunday that around 30 people were killed in the past three days. Abdurrahman couldn't confirm the casualty figures but said the killed included a family of 13 people whose home was hit last week.
Syria's military, meanwhile, has been dropping crude barrel bombs over rebel-held areas in Aleppo that have killed nearly 2,000 civilians since January, according to the Observatory, which relies on a network of activists on the ground to follow the war.
The shelling comes ahead of Syria's June 3 presidential elections that Assad is widely expected to win. There are fears that rebels will intensify their attacks during the vote.
Associated Press writer Diaa Hadid in Beirut contributed to this report.