Assad to make rare speech as rebels edge closer | News | DW | 06.01.2013
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Assad to make rare speech as rebels edge closer

The isolated president of Syria is to deliver a speech Sunday. Bashar Assad has not spoken publicly for months while the opposition eroded his military and diplomatic position.

Syria's estranged president Bashar Assad is due to deliver a rare speech on Sunday as rebels try to encroach further on the capital Damascus and Turkey's NATO partners begin to install Patriot air defence missiles units along the Turkish border with Syria.

"President Bashar Assad will deliver a speech on Sunday morning on the latest developments in Syria and the region," said Syria's state media. It gave no further details.

Public statements by Assad have become rare. The 47-year-old has not addressed parliament in Damascus since June 3, 2012.

And, the last time that he made a speech was in November, when he insisted via Russian media that he would "live and die" in Syria.

Since then, rebels have consolidated their hold on territory in the country's north, launched an offensive in Hama and edged closer to Damascus after seizing control over suburbs encircling the capital.

The Syrian opposition has also obtained widespread political recognition on the international stage.

Assad continues, however, to draw support from Russia, China and Iran while his regime uses air force weaponry to fend off rebels on the ground.

In a sign of apparent business as usual, Syria's deputy foreign visited Iran on Saturday.

The scheduling of Assad's speech comes after Syrian soldiers on Saturday hit the Jobar neighborhood, close to Dasmascus' city center. On Friday, government forces also targeted areas held by rebels in Daraya, an eastern suburb.

An activist called Housam told the news agency Reuters that shelling in Jobar became "really heavy."

US Patriots on the horizon

US European Command said 400 US troops will be deployed to operate two Patriot batteries. Turkey, a NATO member, which became one Assad's fiercest critics, formally sought NATO assistance late last year.

"The deployment started early this morning into Incirlik", said Peter Woodmansee, missile defence chief of the US European Command on Saturday, referring to a key air base in southeastern Turkey.

Woodmansee told the news agency AFP that "several aircraft" had landed with "advance party personnel from 3-2 Air Defense Artillery (ADA) -- the Patriot unit."

sej/ipj (Reuters, AFP)