June 19, 2013
Assad to make rare speech as Syrian rebels draw nearer
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will deliver a rare speech on Sunday about the uprising against his rule, which has killed 60,000 people and brought civil war to the edge of his capital.
With insurgents fighting their way closer to the seat of his power, state media said in a statement that Assad would speak on Sunday morning about the "latest developments in Syria and the region", without giving details.
It will be the 47-year-old leader's first speech in months and his first public comments since he dismissed suggestions that he might go into exile to end the civil war, telling Russian television in November that he would "live and die" in Syria.
Insurgents are venturing ever closer into Damascus after bringing a crescent of suburbs under their control from the city's eastern outskirts to the southwest.
Assad's forces blasted rockets into the Jobar neighbourhood near the city centre on Saturday to try to drive out rebel fighters, a day after bombarding rebel-held areas in the eastern suburb of Daraya.
"The shelling began in the early hours of the morning, it has intensified since 11 a.m., and now it has become really heavy. Yesterday it was Daraya and today Jobar is the hottest spot in Damascus," an activist named Housam said by Skype from the capital.
Since Assad's last public comments, in November, rebels have strengthened their hold on swathes of territory across northern Syria, launched an offensive in the central province of Hama and endured weeks of bombardment by Assad's forces trying to dislodge them from Damascus's outer neighbourhoods.
Syria's political opposition has also won widespread international recognition. But Assad has continued to rely on support from Russia, China and Iran to hold firm and has used his air power to blunt rebel gains on the ground.
With the conflict showing no sign of abating, Syria's deputy foreign minister visited Iran on Saturday to seek to maintain the support of Assad's main ally in the region.
Iran's Fars news agency said Faisal al-Makdad would meet President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other Iranian officials.