Arab news outlets reported Monday that Syrian rebel battalions have seized control of As-Safira, a suburb of Aleppo where, according to foreign reports, President Bashar Assad's largest chemical weapons cache is located.
According to the reports, the rebels who took over the city are also close to area in which Syria's largest arms manufacturing factories are concentrated. Assad's forces have withdrawn into this area, the Arab news outlets said.
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Rebels and forces loyal to Assad have been fighting near As-Safir for months. The Syrian army is trying ward off the rebels by bombing them from the air. Members of the jihadist Jabhat al-Nusra group, which is affiliated with al-Qaeda, are also taking part in the battles in the city. A number of al-Nusra commanders spoke to Al Jazeera about the fighting, but they did not mention the chemical weapons.
As clashes rage between Syrian regime troops and rebels in Damascus’ suburbs, photos published online showed the regime is resorting to building fortifications to protect its headquarters, Al Arabiya reported Tuesday.
Asma Assad with bereaved mothers
One of these defenses is a wall built in front of the criminal security apparatus' structure in the center of the Syrian capital, according to the news network.
Assad's regime describes the two-year conflict, which has claimed the lives of more than 60,000 people, as a foreign conspiracy to weaken the country carried out by "terrorists" on the ground.
Al Jazeera article on rebels in As-Safira
In an attempt to boost that argument and rally regime supporters, Assad's wife, Asma, broke her long silence on the events shaking the country in a video shown on Syrian TV stations over the weekend and posted on the Internet.
In the professionally produced 14-minute video, she was seen greeting, hugging and kissing women who were described as the mothers of Syrian soldiers killed in battle.
Fortifications around criminal security apparatus in Damascus
The video, titled "With Your Soul, Protect the Jasmine," said it was filmed during a reception on Mother's Day, which is celebrated in much of the Arab world on March 21. Asma Assad, dressed casually and speaking in Arabic, thanked the mothers for their sacrifice.
"Instead of fearing for yourselves, fearing for your lives, you feared for all of Syria," she said. "Instead of your children fearing only for you, they feared for all the mothers in the country. They went to protect the country knowing that Syria, the homeland, is the mother of all."
When she finished her speech, a girls' choir broke into a patriotic song.
The video, which was posted Friday on the official Facebook page of the president's office, is the first time Asma has spoken out in public since the start of the conflict. Her silence had prompted some to speculate that theBritish-born first lady disapproved of the regime's violent crackdown on the opposition.
She appeared briefly at a pro-regime rally in January 2012, smiling with her children as her husband said the "conspiracy" against Syria was in its final stage.
A month later, she accompanied her husband to a polling station during a referendum on a new constitution, but did not speak.
In recent weeks, the president's office has published photos of her visiting the children of people killed in the civil war.
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