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Daily Israel Report

Assad Filmed as Syria Reaches the Brink

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad appeared on television to swear in his new defense minister amid speculations he had gone into hiding.
By Gabe Kahn
First Publish: 7/19/2012, 10:23 PM

Assad Swears in Defense Minister 19.07.12
Assad Swears in Defense Minister 19.07.12
Reuters

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad made time for a high profile appearance on Thursday amid rumors he had gone to ground following a deadly bombing that targeted his inner circle.

Wednesday's bombing in Damascus killed Syria's Defense Minister Daoud Rajha, General Hassan Turkmani, and Assad's brother-in-law Assef Shawka, who was Syria’s Interior Minister. Several other key officials were seriously wounded in the attack.

Dispelling rumors he had gone into hiding, Assad on Thursday swore in his new Defense Minister, General Fahad Jassim al-Freij, in a ceremony aired on television by the Syrian News Agency (SANA)

SANA said on Thursday that al-Freij took his oath of office in front of President Bashar al-Assad, who took time to sit and discuss security matters with his new defense chief.

Assad fell out of public view following Wednesday's bombing, leading to speculation his teetering regime may have already imploded. Thursday's swearing in ceremony was clearly inteded as a rejection of such speculation, but fighting throughout the once-impregnable Assad bastion of Damascus continues to intensify.

In response, Israel has placed its military on high alert and cancelled all weekend leaves for officers and solders due to concern Syria's unrest could potentially spill over into the Golan Heights.

Also of concern to Jerusalem are the possibility that Assad may, realizing his days are numbered, try to deal Israel a harsh blow on his way down; or, that Damascus' stockpiles of chemical weapons and other advanced weapons systems may fall into the hands of anti-Israel terror groups like Hizbullah.

Also on Thursday, rebel fighters raided a Syrian army outpost at a key border crossing with Turkey in an attempt to seize control of the gate, but had to pull back when government helicopters were called in.

The dawn attack was the third time in 10 days rebels have tried to seize the Bab al-Hawa gate, a vital commercial crossing in northwestern Syria, opposite the Turkish Cilvegozu gate in Hatay province.

Control of a border crossing to Turkey – where the senior leadership of the Free Syrian Army has taken refuge – would make the movement of intelligence, supplies, and personnel easier for Syria's rebels.

Such raids have also become opportunities for opposition sympathisers among the government soldiers to defect. The rebel Free Syrian Army – the largest anti-Assad insurgency group – is comprosed of over 30,000 Syrian army defectors.

A rebel commander on the ground told reporters that he had planned for 80 soldiers to defect, but only 14 managed to escape.

Turkey, which has called on Assad to step down, is giving sanctuary to opposition members and fighters on its soil and is providing shelter to more than 40,000 Syrian refugees fleeing violence at home.

Some 12,500 people – most of them civilians – have been killed during Assad's brutal 16-month crackdown on the popular uprising against his regime that has now grown into a full-blown civil war.

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay has gone on record saying their is ample evidence to prosecute Assad for crimes against humanity – notably charges that his forces have systemically raped, tortured, kidnapped, and summarily executed dissedents, rebels, and their families – should his regime collapse.