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Middle east

Free Syrian Army move HQ from Turkey to Syria

Video by Lucy FIELDER

Latest update : 2013-06-14

The commander of the Free Syrian Army said Saturday that the rebel command centre had been moved from Turkey to within Syria. The news came as Syrian state TV released footage of Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma meeting the country's journalists.

The main Syrian insurgent group announced on Saturday that their command centre had been transferred from Turkey to "liberated areas" inside Syria. The commander of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), Col. Riad al-Asaad, issued a video titled "Free Syrian Army Communique Number 1 from Inside" confirming the move without specifying the command centre’s new location.

“This seems to be a move to reassure fighters, to unify the command (…) and to try to encourage Western and Arab donors and would-be supporters who’ve been very concerned by the many divisions within the Free Syrian Army”, said Lucy Fielder, FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Lebanon.

Video: Asma al-Assad reappears

Insurgents have recently consolidated their hold on a swathe of rural territories in northern Syria, but rebel positions remain vulnerable to attacks from Syrian helicopters and MIG jets.

The FSA announcement came as rebel fighters went on the offensive in Aleppo’s Om and Kaf Jum regions, targeting several regime checkpoints. At least 11 Syrian troops and five rebel fighters were killed there, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

"The state has no presence except for military and administrative posts" in the western region of the province in northern Syria, Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told the AFP news agency.

He said the regime was determined to prevent rebels linking up between western Aleppo and the neighbouring province of Idlib as this would form an extensive insurgent-held region on the border with Turkey, which supports the revolt in Syria.

Asma reappears

As fighting raged across the country, Syrian state TV released on Sunday footage showing President Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma shaking hands with journalists in Damascus.

The meeting was reportedly held in the second week of September as the embattled leader tried to reassure employees after a spate of rebel attacks against pro-regime media.

Three journalists and four security guards working at the al-Ikhbariya satellite channel were killed on June 27 when gunmen armed with explosives stormed their office. The headquarters of Syrian state television was rocked by a bomb blast only two weeks later

Although no-one was killed, the bomb attack confirmed the insurgents’ capacity to strike deep into the heart of Damascus.

According to FRANCE24’s Lucy Fielder, the release of this video would also dispel rumours that Bashar al-Assad’s wife had fled the country.

“The real significance for a lot of people was the fact that Asma al-Assad appeared in these images. There has been a lot of speculation over the last few months as to whether she had left Syria”, Fielder said.

Just as Asma reappeared on Syrian state televisions, the AFP news agency reported that the president’s only sister, a pharmacist in her 50s with no position in the Syrian regime, had left the wartorn country.

Syrian expatriates in Dubai said that Bushra al-Assad was now living in the wealthy emirate city, where her five children were enrolled at a private school. Bushra's husband General Assef Shawkat, an army deputy chief of staff, was killed along with three other high-ranking officials in a July 18 bombing at the National Security headquarters in Damascus.

With Bushra's departure, Assad now has only his brother Maher, who commands the notorious Fourth Brigade, in the country.

(FRANCE24 with wires)

Date created : 2012-09-22

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