Assad growing confident

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, President Bashar Assad, right, visits the Umayyad Electrical Station on May Day, a day after a powerful bomb hit the capital. in Damascus, Syria, Wednesday, May 1, 2013. (AP Photo/SANA)
In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, President Bashar Assad, right, visits the Umayyad Electrical Station on May Day, a day after a powerful bomb hit the capital. in Damascus, Syria, Wednesday, May 1, 2013. (AP Photo/SANA)
Posted: May 03, 2013

BEIRUT - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his allies are showing renewed confidence that the momentum in the civil war is shifting in their favor, due in part to the rapid rise of al-Qaeda-linked extremists among the rebels and the world's reluctance to take forceful action to intervene in the fighting.

His invigorated regime has gone on the offensive - both on the ground and in its portrayal of the conflict as a choice between Assad and the extremists.

Several factors appear to have convinced Assad he can weather the storm: Two years into the uprising against his family's iron rule, his regime remains firmly entrenched in Damascus, the defection rate from the military has dwindled, and key international supporters Russia and China are still solidly on his side.

Moreover, the regime has benefited from the fallout created by audio distributed last month in which the head of the extremist Jabhat al-Nusra group, one of the most powerful and effective rebel groups in Syria, pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

There are signs of Assad's renewed confidence.

After dropping largely out of sight following an hour-long speech at the Opera House in central Damascus in January, Assad has appeared in two TV interviews in the last month. His wife, Asma, appeared in public in March for the first time in months, surrounded by women and children for a function honoring mothers.

"I can say, without exaggeration, that the situation in Syria now is better than it was at the beginning of the crisis," Assad said in an interview with state-run broadcaster Al-Ikhbariya on April l7.

"With time, people became more aware of the dangers of what was happening. . . . They started to gain a better understanding of the real Syria we used to live in and realized the value of the safety, security and harmony, which we used to enjoy," he added.

On Wednesday, a smiling Assad made another rare public appearance, visiting a Damascus power station just a day after a bombing in the capital and two days after his prime minister escaped an assassination attempt.

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