Assad Makes Rare Public Appearance as Rockets Hit Damascus

Image: Assad Makes Rare Public Appearance as Rockets Hit Damascus Syrian President al-Bashar Assad, center right, visits the Umayyad Electrical Station on May 1, a day after a powerful bomb hit the capital in Damascus.

Thursday, 02 May 2013 03:47 AM

 

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AMMAN, Jordan — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made a rare public appearance on Wednesday, visiting a Damascus power station, while two bombs exploded near the city center and wounded 15 people, Syria's state news agency reported.

SANA said the blasts were caused by two improvised explosive devices which went off on Khalid Bin Walid street and the nearby Bab Mesalla Square. It said the bombs were planted by "terrorists," a term the government uses to describe rebels fighting to topple the Syrian leader.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights however said the Bab Mesalla explosions were due to rockets that fell in the area. It said initial information indicated that there were casualties, but the number could not be obtained immediately.

There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy in the reports.

The Observatory said police sealed off Bab Mesalla, which has restaurants, shops and a main public transportation station linking Damascus with the southern provinces of Daraa and Sweida.

In the other incident, the Observatory said a bomb exploded near police headquarters on Khalid Bin Walid Street. It said several people, including children, were wounded in the blast.

No other details were immediately available.

Assad's visit to the power station came just a day after a powerful bomb hit the capital.

A broadcast on Syria's state television showed Assad speaking to staff on the occasion of International Workers Day, or May Day, at the Umayyad Electrical Station in the Tishrin Park district. Similar still images also appeared on a page used by the Syrian presidency on the popular social network Facebook.

"They want to scare us, we will not be scared. . . . They want us to live underground, we will not live underground," Assad was shown on TV, telling a group of workers who gathered around him.

"We hope that by this time next year we will have overcome the crisis in our country," he added.

At least 14 people were killed in Tuesday's blast, the second in the heart of the capital in two days. Rebels seeking to topple Assad have been trying to create a supply line from Jordan, so that arms bought by Saudi Arabia and Qatar can be shipped in for assaults on the city they hope to capture.

The television showed Assad, confident and wearing a dark business suit, talking with workers and shaking their hands. Later he is shown surrounded by the staff in a garden.

Meanwhile, the Turkey-based Syrian National Coalition, in its first public response, rebuked the leader of Lebanon's Hezbollah militant group, a day after he said that Syrian rebels will not be able to defeat Assad's regime militarily.

Sheik Hassan Nasrallah had warned that Syria's "real friends," including his Iranian-backed militant group, could intervene on the government's side if the need arises.

The coalition said it hoped Hezbollah would stay out of the Syrian war, and urged Lebanon to "control its borders and urgently stop, through all available means, the military operations attributed to Hezbollah in areas close to the Syrian border."

It also blamed Assad's regime for "destroying" religious Muslim and Christian sites.

Hezbollah, a powerful Shiite Muslim group, is known to be backing Syrian government forces in Shiite villages near the Lebanese border against the mostly Sunni rebels fighting to topple Assad.

But Nasrallah's comments were the strongest indication yet that his group is ready to intervene more substantially on the side of Assad's embattled regime.

"You will not be able to take Damascus by force and you will not be able to topple the regime militarily. This is a long battle," Nasrallah said, addressing the Syrian opposition. "Syria has real friends in the region and in the world who will not allow Syria to fall in the hands of America or Israel or the Takfiris."

Takfiris is a term used to refer to followers of an al-Qaida-like extremist ideology.

Hezbollah and Iran are close allies of Assad. Rebels have accused both of them of sending fighters to assist Syrian troops trying to crush the 2-year-old anti-Assad uprising, which the U.N. says has killed more than 70,000 people.

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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