Aug 1, 2012 No Comments ›› Pat Dollard
(NY TIMES) BEIRUT, Lebanon — In rare public remarks apparently designed to marshal government forces seeking to suppress a 17-month revolt, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria urged his forces on Wednesday to show “more readiness and continued preparations” to confront “internal agents” seeking to destabilize his battered country, according to the official SANA news agency. The call to arms was described by analysts as the first public appeal by Mr. Assad since a bombing in mid-July killed some of his most senior aides and spurred speculation about his whereabouts. His comments, marking the 67th anniversary of the founding of the Syrian Army, were carried by SANA but there was no immediate broadcast on state-run television.
Mr. Assad was speaking a day after Syrian rebels said they had taken control of at least two important police stations in central Aleppo, Syria’s commercial heart, maintaining their hold on several neighborhoods on Tuesday despite air assaults and shelling by government troops.
Nearly two weeks have passed since the fighting began for control of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, and both sides seem to be digging in for an extended battle. On Wednesday, United Nations observers said they had witnessed Syrian fighter jets opening fire in Aleppo, with rockets and heavy machine gun fire. Observers added that the rebels now had tanks and other heavy weapons.
Opposition groups on Wednesday also spoke of fighting before dawn in a Christian area of central Damascus.
Mr. Assad said Syria’s “battle with the enemy takes multiple forms” and “determines the destiny of our people and nation.” According to some news reports, he referred to a “crucial and heroic battle.”
He said Syria’s enemies “exploited internal agents as a bridge to destabilize the homeland, undermine the citizens’ safety and drain our economic and scientific capabilities” to prevent the country from “improving our society to the level of developed countries.”
Mr. Assad did not identify the so-called internal agents further. But his government has long accused outside powers, including several Western and regional countries, of fomenting the violence that has washed over Syria with increasing virulence since the uprising began in March, 2011.
His characterization of the fighting seemed to indicate that, while dismissing his adversaries as “terrorist gangs,” Mr. Assad also acknowledged the high stakes surrounding his political survival. But he insisted that his forces had stood their ground, despite the steady spread of armed opposition through Syria’s major cities in recent weeks.
“You wrote the greatest epic of heroism and pride and proved through facing the war waged against our country and confronting the criminal terrorist gangs that you are entrusted with the values of our people to whom you belong and faithful to their history and civilization,” Mr. Assad said, according to SANA’s English-language edition.
“You represent the aspiration of our people in defending their dignity and honor and restoring stability and security of the homeland due to your determination to implement your sacred duty towards the homeland,” Mr. Assad said. On Wednesday, SANA also published the text of a letter sent by the Syrian Foreign Ministry to the United Nations, renewing accusations that “armed terrorist groups” backed “openly with funds and weapons by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey committed horrifying crimes against innocent civilians in Damascus and Aleppo and are still doing so in Aleppo.”
The letter also alluded to “the capitals conspiring against Syria — particularly in Ankara, Doha, Riyadh, Washington, Paris, London and Berlin.”
In Aleppo, residents and activists said on Tuesday that the Syrian Army was attacking from a military base on the city’s southern edge, while rebel commanders and activists said the rebels controlled eastern sections of the city as they continued to fight for neighborhoods near the center of the city and in Salaheddiin, a large neighborhood in the southwest part of Aleppo.