Aleppo: President Bashar Al Assad told his troops on Wednesday that their battle against rebels would determine Syria’s fate but his written message gave no clues to his whereabouts two weeks after a bomb attack hit his inner circle.
Al Assad has not spoken in public since the bombing in Damascus on July 18 killed four of his close security aides although he has been seen on television.
His latest remarks – made as the two sides battled for control of Syria’s commercial capital Aleppo – appeared in a statement in the military’s magazine to mark armed forces day.
But it was not clear exactly when or where he was speaking, indicating heightened concern over his personal security in the wake of the bombing at the defence headquarters in the capital.
“The fate of our people and our nation, past, present and future, depends on this battle,” he said.
In confronting “terrorist criminal gangs” – the government’s usual term for the rebels, the army had proved it had “the steely resolve and conscience and that you are the trustees of the people’s values”, he said.
In the northern city of Aleppo, rebel fighters seized three police stations while fighting the army for control of a strategically important district.
Explosions could be heard yesterday morning and helicopter gunships cruised the skies as government forces tried to push the rebels out of the historic city and preserve one of Al Assad’s main centres of power.
Meanwhile, video footage posted on the Internet appeared to show that rebel fighters were carrying out summary executions in Aleppo in much the same way as government forces have been accused of acting in Damascus.
One video showed four men identified as members of the pro-regime Shabbiha militia being led down a flight of stair, lined up against a wall and shot in a hail of rifle fire as onlookers shouted “God is Greatest”.
In another video, a cameraman filmed the bodies of about 15 men lying dead at a police station. One rebel fired at the corpse of the station commander, blowing his head off. In both cases, the content of the footage could not immediately be verified.
The fighting has proved costly for the 2.5 million residents of Aleppo, a commercial hub with an ancient Old City that was slow to join the anti-Assad revolt that has rocked Damascus and other cities.
Thousands have fled and those who remain face shortages of food and fuel as well as the risk of injury or death.
“We have hardly any power or water, our wives and kids have left us here to watch the house and have gone somewhere safer,” said Jumaa, a 45-year-old construction worker.
Makeshift clinics in rebel-held areas struggle to deal with dozens of casualties after more than a week of fighting.
Up to 18,000 people have been forced to leave their homes in Aleppo and many frightened residents were seeking shelter in schools, mosques and public buildings, according to the UN refugee agency in Geneva.
Rebel fighters, patrolling parts of Aleppo in pick-up trucks flying green-white-and-black “independence” flags, face a daunting task in taking on the well-equipped Syrian army.