Syria's war is at a "turning point", says Assad
A man is helped away as dust settles following an alleged air strike by Syrian regime forces on the city of Douma, northeast of the capital Damascus, an opposition bastion since early in the revolt against President Bashar Assad. (AFP)
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President Bashar Assad said Sunday that Syria’s three-year conflict was at a “turning point” due to his forces’ military gains against rebels, state media said.
Addressing graduate students and staff of the political science department in Damascus University, Assad spoke of a “turning point in the crisis in Syria in terms of the continuous military achievements ... by the army and armed forces in the war against terror and in ... terms of national reconciliation,” state news agency SANA reported.
In recent months, government forces, backed by fighters from Lebanon’s Hezbollah, recaptured several rebel-held areas and border towns, closing off rebel supply routes from Lebanon and securing the main highway leading north from Damascus toward central Syria, Homs and the Mediterranean. Several localized truces have been concluded in areas around the capital, a process that the regime refers to as “national reconciliation.”
Assad is preparing to run for a third term in an election expected in July which international powers that back the rebels have described as a “parody of democracy.”
Assad’s comments came as fighting between regime forces and rebels raged in half a dozen provinces throughout the country, with Saturday’s nationwide death toll standing at 275 people, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
On Sunday, opposition activists said at least 20 people were killed when warplanes attacked the Damascus suburb of Douma. A day earlier, rebels and the government blamed each other for an alleged poison gas attack on the village of Kafr Zeita in the province of Hama that they said wounded scores of people.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power told ABC’s “This Week” that the attack was so far “unsubstantiated.”
Syrian warplanes launched an offensive against a string of opposition bastions on the edges of the capital, including the besieged Eastern Ghouta area, the anti-regime Observatory said.
Three children and four men were killed when warplanes carried out two airstrikes against the Damascus suburb of Douma and hit a crowded marketplace, according to the Syrian Revolution General Commission, a network of activists on the ground.
Activists posted video footage of the grisly aftermath.
Also in Douma, two children died of malnutrition and a lack of medical supplies in the besieged town, the Observatory said.
It reported airstrikes against Hammourieh, east of Damascus, and highly destructive barrel bomb attacks on Daraya, an opposition bastion southwest of the capital.
The air raids came as fighting raged on the edges of Daraya between rebels and the army, which for more than a year has battled to secure the capital.
Other airstrikes targeted Mliha, also in eastern Ghouta, while clashes on the town’s edges pitted rebels and their Nusra Front allies against the army and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah, the Observatory said.
Mliha has suffered heavy bombing for 10 consecutive days, as the army and Hezbollah attempt to break through rebel lines.
The Observatory said regime forces Sunday took control of areas on Mliha’s edges after clashes that killed a Hezbollah fighter. North of the capital, the army overran a string of hills overlooking Rankous, a former opposition stronghold in the strategic Qalamoun mountains that fell to the regime last Wednesday, state television reported.
SANA, meanwhile, reported “the death of a young man and the wounding of 22 others” in a mortar attack launched by “terrorists” in Damascus.
State media uses the regime’s term “terrorists” to refer to the rebels.
The attack hit Beirut Street, located near the army command headquarters, and killed two people, the Observatory said.
Mortar bombs struck the regime-held neighborhoods of Bab Touma, Tabbaleh and Barzeh, and the suburb of Jaramana, killing one person each in Tabbaleh and Jaramana, the Observatory added. It also reported, citing activists, the assassination of a senior regime officer in the capital by unknown gunmen. Pro-opposition media outlets identified the man as Lt. Gen. Samir Sheikh, responsible for a reconnaissance department in the armed forces.
In Aleppo, fighting raged around the Air Force intelligence headquarters, which rebels have been trying to seize from regime hands, the Observatory said. It said helicopters pressed the regime’s months-old aerial barrel bomb offensive on Aleppo’s rebel districts, killing two children and a man.
The Observatory said regime troops “targeted” a vehicle in northern Latakia province, killing an unspecified number of jihadists it was carrying, without identifying the type of strike.
In Hama province, regime forces and paramilitary allies seized parts of the village of Morek, the Observatory said. Morek, which was seized last month by rebel groups, lies on the main highway between Hama and Aleppo.
In the east, where militants from the Al-Qaeda splinter group ISIS have been battling the Nusra Front and its local allies, the Observatory said ISIS seized Mwaleh, a village in rural Deir al-Zor province.
The group staged an attack on the town of Al-Bukamal on the Iraqi border last week but were quickly repulsed by local militias and the Nusra Front, and have largely been on the retreat since then.