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Syrian President Assad appears on TV after attack

July 19, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Syrian President Bashar Assad made his first appearance since a bomb blast in Damascus killed his brother-in-law and his defense minister.

Government troops launched a wide-ranging assault on Thursday to snuff out rebels throughout the capital. According to anti-regime activists, government troops used mortars, tanks and helicopter gunships against rebels throughout Damascus and its suburbs.

The whereabouts of Assad, his wife and their three young children have been a mystery since the attack on his inner circle. A brief state TV report showed Assad dressed in a suit and tie and swearing-in his new defense minister. It appeared aimed at sending the message that Assad is alive and well.

The station said that he wished the new defense minister good luck, but did not say where the swearing-in took place.

As fighting in the capital entered its fifth straight day, thousands of Syrians were seen streaming across the border into Lebanon to flee.

"It is a war going on here, literally a war," said a 25-year-old woman in the Muhajereen neighborhood. She said the sounds of battle had kept her up all night and she had stayed home from work because she feared random gunfire.

Wednesday's rebel bomb attack struck the harshest blow yet to Assad's regime. Along with Defense Minister Dawoud Rajha, 65, and Gen. Assef Shawkat, 62, also killed in the attack was Hassan Turkmani, 77, a former defense minister who died of his wounds in the hospital.

China and Russia vetoed a new U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria's crisis - reflecting divisions between them and the West on who is responsible for Syria's crisis and how to stop it. This is the third time Russia and China have blocked such a resolution.

Activists say more than 17,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March 2011, most of them civilians. The Syrian government says more than 4,000 security officers have been killed. It does not given numbers of civilian dead.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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