BEIRUT: Warplanes circled Damascus Wednesday as the regime’s army warned opposition fighters that entering the capital would result in their “certain death.” Army offensives against rebels in opposition held areas opened up across the country.
The new push also came as President Bashar Assad issued a broadside against Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, claiming he has not said “a single word of truth" about Syria's conflict thus far, in an interview with Turkish media.
Rebel-held suburbs in the capital came under bombardment Wednesday as opposition groups attempt to move in to the center of the city, where President Bashar Assad and his most loyal supporters and troops are based.
Shelling was reported in the suburbs of Barzeh, Jobar and Mliha, according to the Local Coordination Committees, while residents said warplanes could be head circling the neighborhoods from the center of the city.
An unnamed army commander, in an interview with the pro-government newspaper Al Watan, said in Wednesday’s edition that if “terrorists entered the city it would result in certain death for them and their leaders.”
He went on to assure residents of the capital that they were safe, and would remain so, due to the “experience, courage and bravery” of the army, which would defeat the terrorists, he said.
In extracts from the as yet unpublished interview with Turkish media, Assad, on top of slamming Ankara, which offers crucial ideological and technical support to the Syrian opposition, also criticized what he labeled as an opposition attempt to spread sectarian discord in Syria.
He condemned the killing on March 21 of prominent pro-regime Sunni cleric Mohammed Saeed al-Bouti as part of a plan to incite "sectarian strife" in Syria.
"There is no doubt that the role of clerics, including Dr. Bouti, was key to ensuring the failure of a covert plan to create sectarian strife. That's why they assassinated Dr. Bouti," Assad said.
On the ground outside the capital Wednesday, shelling was reported in Raqqa, one of the first cities to fall completely to rebel control two weeks ago.
In the south of the country, opposition forces captured a military base on the outskirts of the city of Deraa.
The military defense base fell to the rebels after several days of battles, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group, said Wednesday.
The LCC also reported that in Sweida, which is very close to the Jordanian border, opposition fighters killed “many” regime forces, but did not stipulate an exact number.
The opposition, which already controls much of the north of the country, has started a push to gain ground in the south, near the crucial southern border.
State media reported Wednesday that the army had killed a number of Jabhat al-Nusra opposition fighters in the Hama neighborhood of Tal al-Dabbagha.
As of midday Wednesday, the activist network said that 26 people had been killed across the country, including five children.