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Assad slams extremism as barrel bomb attacks continue
Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, meets with a delegation of Lebanon's Coalition of Muslim Scholars, headed by Sheikh Hassan Abdullah, second right, in Damascus, Syria, Monday, Dec. 30, 2013. (AP Photo/SANA)
Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, meets with a delegation of Lebanon's Coalition of Muslim Scholars, headed by Sheikh Hassan Abdullah, second right, in Damascus, Syria, Monday, Dec. 30, 2013. (AP Photo/SANA)
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BEIRUT/DAMASCUS: Syrian government aircraft targeted two suburbs of the capital on Monday using crude “barrel bombs,” as President Bashar Assad said his forces were engaged in a fight against extremist Islam.

Assad also called for a battle against the political and religious ideology embraced by the Saudi government, a backer of the uprising against his regime.

The comments came amid ongoing tensions between the two countries, which fiercely oppose each other.

Assad said that extremist thought “distorts the real Islam, which is tolerant,” state news agency SANA said.

“He underlined the role of men of religion, especially those from the Levant, in confronting” ideas that were alien to Syrian society, the agency said.

Assad’s remarks during a meeting with a religious delegation from Lebanon come a day after Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah accused the Syrian leader of “destroying his country.”

The monarch, who was hosting French President Francois Hollande, also accused Assad of having attracted Islamic extremists to Syria.

Groups affiliated with and loyal to Al-Qaeda are now among those fighting on the ground against Assad’s government, although some members of the opposition accuse the hard-liners of being in league with the regime, to defeat mainstream rebel groups.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that regime aircraft dropped barrel bombs on the Damascus suburbs of Adra, a day after several thousand people were evacuated from the area, and Daraya, where government troops were accused of killing several hundred people last year.

Civilian activists posted video footage of the bombings. The footage could not be independently confirmed, and there were no reports of casualties in the raids.

The northern province of Aleppo has been the target of two weeks of attacks, often involving barrel bombs, killing hundreds of people.

At least 31 people were killed around the country, according to the Local Coordinating Committees, a network of activists based inside Syria. Eleven of the casualties were reported in Damascus and surrounding areas, the group said.

Fierce clashes between were also reported in half a dozen parts of the country, such as Aleppo, Damascus, Deraa, Hama and Deir al-Zor.

The Observatory said Sunday’s death toll stood at 137 people, among them 99 fighters on both sides, in a sign of the heavy fighting taking place.

In the northeast province of Hassakeh, the Observatory said that Kurdish fighters managed to seize another village from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, an al-Qaeda affiliate. The Kurdish militia the PYD, which has often fought anti-regime rebels, has taken a string of villages from Islamist groups in the northeast in recent weeks.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 31, 2013, on page 8.
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Wahhabism / Bashar Assad / Daraya / Adra / Saudi King Abdullah / Syria
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