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Syria, Iran: U.S. aid to rebels will extend war

DAMASCUS, Syria -- Syria and Iran said Saturday that Washington's decision to provide aid to rebels will only prolong the fighting aimed at toppling President Bashar Assad, whose troops scored a major strategic victory in the country's heavily contested north.

Syrian troops regained control of several villages along a key highway near the embattled northern city of Aleppo, restoring stability to the city's international airport, the Army's General Command said in a statement. The achievement has the potential to change the outcome of the battle in Syria's largest city, where government troops have been locked in a stalemate for months.

In Tehran, Syrian and Iranian foreign ministers accused the United States of having a double standard on its policy regarding Syria. They said the U.S. decision to provide rebels with aid will only delay an end to the nearly 2-year-old conflict that has killed 70,000 people, according to the United Nations.

The remarks by Syria's Walid al-Moallem and his Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Salehi, were the first official statements from the two nations since U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's announcement this week that the U.S. will provide, for the first time, nonlethal aid directly to Syria's rebels, in addition to $60 million in assistance to Syria's political opposition.

Speaking at a joint news conference in Tehran, the Syrian and Iranian diplomats emphasized that whether Assad stays or goes will be decided in presidential elections next year.

Iran is a staunch ally of the Syrian regime and has stood by the embattled Assad throughout the conflict.

Al-Moallem said it was it was inconceivable that Washington would allocate $60 million in assistance to Syrian opposition groups while it continues to "kill the Syrian people" through economic sanctions imposed against the country.

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